JERSEY CITY, New Jersey (Reuters) - For all the security staff, rules of conduct and a warning that troublemakers would be kicked out, the most noteworthy event at Goldman Sachs Group Inc’s(GS.N) annual meeting on Thursday was a mild tweet.
“We are now live on Twitter (finally) at the GS Annual Meeting,” Goldman’s Twitter account said in its first tweet at 9:38 a.m. on Thursday. “Follow us here for updates on our work, our research, and our people.”
The bank, which recently embarked on a campaign to restore its tattered public image, also used Twitter to publicly announce the results of its shareholder votes. All 10 Goldman directors were voted in, top executives’ pay was approved and shareholder resolutions opposed by the bank were rejected by wide margins.
The tweets were the latest sign of Goldman’s new attitude toward the public and the media.
The notoriously media-shy bank recently hired a new public relations executive, former Obama administration official Richard “Jake” Siewert. He has been trying to spruce up Goldman’s image by making executives more available to the press and getting the company’s PR operation more in line with a changing media landscape.
At the meeting on Thursday, Chairman and Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein, President Gary Cohn and other senior executives could be seen joking and chatting casually with reporters, seeming unusually at ease.
The charm offensive comes after a former employee published a scathing opinion piece in March, accusing Goldman of routinely ripping off clients. The public response to the New York Times op-ed was swift and harsh, and senior executives have said it was a wake-up call that the bank needed to become more proactive in telling its side of the story.
Goldman had been prepared for a 100-strong picket line at the site of its annual meeting - its offices in Jersey City, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from its Wall Street headquarters. Competitors like Wells Fargo & Co (WFC.N) faced hundreds of anti-bank protesters at their annual meetings.
As a precaution, security guards were stationed around the perimeter of the Jersey City building, directing attendees with proper credentials into the building and leaving protestors to stand outside in the rain. “Rules of Conduct” leaflets placed on tables inside asked people not to talk out of turn and warned that disruptive people would be ousted.
As it was, only a few dozen protestors braved the fog and drizzle. Inside, shareholders focused less on Occupy Wall Street issues and more on the bank’s bottom line and reputation.
Shareholder nun, Sister Barbara Aires of the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth, focused on whether Goldman was doing enough to implement recommendations from an internal review after the financial crisis
Blankfein said 31 of the committee’s 39 recommendations had been implemented, but the nun wanted to know why it wasn’t finished yet.
“Well Sister Aires, you sound a lot like Goldman management,” Blankfein joked.
“Want to hire me?” the nun quickly shot back.
“I don’t think we could outbid your current boss,” Blankfein deadpanned.
During the rest of the Q&A session, Blankfein defended the firm’s compensation practices, its financial reform lobbying efforts and the appointment of Mercer Chief Executive Michele Burns to lead Goldman’s audit committee.
Burns also serves on the board of Wal-Mart Stores Inc, which has been ensnared in a scandal over alleged bribes to Mexican officials. Two shareholders took to the podium to question whether it was appropriate for Goldman to promote Burns to head its audit committee given her role in Wal-Mart’s corporate governance.
Blankfein said there was nothing that would cause him or other members of the board to question her ability. Burns then stood up to say that Wal-Mart is “fully committed” to an investigation of its issues in Mexico, which were first unveiled in a New York Times article last month, but she declined to comment further on the matter.
The annual meeting lasted roughly 90 minutes. A preliminary tally read by General Counsel Gregory Palm showed that Burns and other directors were voted in with “overwhelming support.” About 94 percent of shareholders approved top executives’ pay packages and more than 99 percent approved PricewaterhouseCoopers as Goldman’s accounting firm.
Shareholder proposals to adopt cumulative voting, to produce a detailed report on lobbying spending, and to require executives to keep at least 75 percent of their stock for three years after leaving Goldman all lost by wide margins, with only 24 percent, 7 percent and 17 percent approval, respectively.
Within hours of @GoldmanSachs’s first tweet, it had more than 8,000 followers. But it was not yet following anyone back.
Reporting by Lauren Tara LaCapra in Jersey City, N.J. and Rick Rothacker in Charlotte, North Carolina; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Tim Dobbyn