Managing one’s reputation is a tricky business — a slip can put you back by a thousand paces. So when the investment banking giant Goldman Sachs found that the company hasn’t been doing well at all on this front, it launched a charm offensive. Ahead of the Christmas season, it gallantly played Santa Claus and opened its goody-bag a little. Out came a nicely packaged apology for “participating in wrong things” and a promissory note of $500 million — about 3 per cent of the $16.7 billion it has so far set aside to pay its employees this year — to help small businesses recover from the recession. And that was not all: the bank roped in its largest shareholder, the billionaire philanthropist Warren Buffett to guide this reputation-recovery process.
But if small entrepreneurs — the nuts and bolts of an economy — are hoping that tidy cheques will land at their doorstep by the next reindeer mail, they are in for a surprise. Hard cash will be hard to come by. Instead, Goldman will spend $200 million on education and training programmes (read: fancy corporate gyan), while another $300 million would be spent for projects that come under Goldman’s corporate social responsibility schemes. Also, no invitations are coming for Mr Buffett’s famous and expensive mentoring dinners; he says he will give advice from the “35,000-feet level”.
All this leaves us a bit confused. Goldman Sachs says that it’s sorry and wants to spend but will not pay cash — something that small businesses actually need desperately to tide over the credit crunch. So how far would this $500 million notional cash and a crisp apology go? Frankly, not too far. Meanwhile, small entrepreneurs can look skywards for some advice. Don’t forget: at 35,000 ft sits Mr Buffett.