The Vanity Fair 100 2009: Goldman Sachs

The Vanity Fair 100

Goldman Sachs LAST YEAR: 20.

STAGE OF GLOBAL CONQUEST: It&rsquos hard to imagine a financial institution that has weathered the economic crisis as well as Goldman Sachs has. Wall Street&rsquos most watched and talked-about erstwhile investment bank took just seven months to shake the government off its back&mdashit repaid its tarp funds ($10 billion) in June&mdashand return to doing what it does best: making money. Goldman&rsquos second-quarter net income of $3.4 billion shocked even the most cynical observers, of which there were many, thanks to the firm&rsquos insidious tentacles, which stretch from Wall Street to Washington. Nevertheless, as several of the Goldman chief&rsquos contemporaries have seen their careers come to ignominious ends in the past 18 months&mdashLehman Brothers&rsquo Dick Fuld, Bear Stearns&rsquos Jimmy Cayne, Merrill Lynch&rsquos Stanley O&rsquoNeal&mdashBlankfein&rsquos grip on power at his own firm has only gotten tighter. HUMBLE BEGINNINGS: Blankfein, 55, is the son of a Brooklyn postal worker. BIG COOL FRIEND: Warren Buffett. The Oracle of Omaha stepped into the breach with an injection of $5 billion into Goldman in October 2008 in exchange for preferred shares that pay a 10 percent annual dividend. NEMESIS: Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi, who gathered every single conspiracy theory that has ever been uttered about Goldman into a July barn burner called &ldquoThe Great American Bubble Machine,&rdquo in which he described the bank as &ldquoa great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity.&rdquo QUESTIONABLE-TASTE ALERT: Just days before reports surfaced in The New York Post of Blankfein calling for his bankers to put an end to conspicuous consumption and lay low, his wife, Laura, reportedly made a fuss in the Hamptons after she and another Goldman Sachs wife were asked to wait in line with other ticket holders before the doors opened for Super Saturday, a charity event for ovarian cancer. SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF: In 2008, the firm earned $2.3 billion and paid a mere $14 million in taxes, an effective tax rate of 1 percent, the result of what Goldman calls &ldquochanges in geographic earnings mix.&rdquo Critics say this could be offshore tax havens, a charge that Goldman denies. THE HITS KEEP COMING: Goldman faced another round of criticism in late August after The Wall Street Journal revealed that the bank&rsquos analysts supply stock tips to their biggest spending clients, leaving their smaller investors in the dark. ON THE RECORD: &ldquoWe regret that we participated in the market euphoria and failed to raise a responsible voice.&rdquo YEAR AHEAD: &rarr Google LAST YEAR: 3. STAGE OF GLOBAL CONQUEST: It&rsquos hard to believe that Google turned 11 years old in September. Its stock has fallen from a peak of $714 in late 2007 to around $445 today, wiping out nearly $20 billion in paper wealth for its leadership triumvirate. The company has laid off 10,000 contract workers and even cut back on the operating hours at its famed free cafeterias. And Silicon Valley types gossip about the &ldquoGoogle brain drain,&rdquo as disillusioned talent has finally begun to defect from the vaunted company. Nonetheless, Google is still doing better than pretty much everyone else in the battered economy. And as the Obama administration revived the long-forgotten notions of anti-trust, Google&rsquos dominance became the subject of three separate federal investigations, including one into allegations that the Google and Apple boards have become overly entwined, which prompted Schmidt, 53, to relinquish his seat on Apple&rsquos board. WAS ANYONE REALLY FOOLED: In response to the probes by the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission, Google launched an unpersuasive P.R. campaign to portray the Internet giant as vulnerable and not evil. DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS: Washington&rsquos interest in regulating Google is countered by the company&rsquos close ties to the new administration: Schmidt serves on Obama&rsquos advisory council on science and technology and sat next to the president during a C.E.O. powwow in February. Google&rsquos former head lobbyist Andrew McLaughlin is now the nation&rsquos &ldquodeputy chief technology officer.&rdquo Google was the third-biggest source of corporate donations to Obama&rsquos campaign, and 15 Google executives donated $166,000 for the inauguration. D&EacuteCOR: Schmidt&rsquos office has a seat from a B-52 bomber, a gift from Brin, 35, and Page, 36. HEALTH WATCH: Brin said last September that he has a genetic mutation that increases his risk of Parkinson&rsquos, which his mother, Eugenia (a former nasa computer engineer), has developed. THORN IN THEIR SIDE: Their YouTube unit struggled to sell advertising, reportedly losing millions of dollars a year from the cost of streaming videos. The basic problem: advertisers don&rsquot want their ad to appear next to a video of a teen in a thong. YEAR AHEAD: &rarr Sign up to receive the latest tips from Vanity Fair delivered to your inbox. Revisit Ted Kennedy&rsquos remarkable life with this set of photographs, dating from 1936 to this year. Annie Leibovitz photographs Jon Hamm and January Jones, the stars of AMC&rsquos Mad Men.

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