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Lloyd Blankfein: 'We Haven't Gotten Everything Right'

In his first interview in two years, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein told CNBC Wednesday, "We haven't gotten everything right in how we deal with the public."

Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs speaks to Gary Kaminsky on April 25, 2012.
CNBC
Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs speaks to Gary Kaminsky on April 25, 2012.

The bombshell op-ed piece in the New York Times caught Blankfein off-guard, he told Squawk on the Street.

In the March 14 piece, Greg Smith, head of Goldman's U.S. equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said the firm put its own profits ahead of clients, with some executives disparaging some clients as "muppets."

In his response to the newspaper, Blankfein said Smith's assertions "do not reflect our values, our culture and how the vast majority of people at Goldman Sachs think about the firm and the work it does on behalf of our clients."

Blankfein told CNBC, "We’ve gotten use to surprises and knew we’d have to grapple with this... As the day went on we got tremendous response. I have to deal with clients and people at work and the reaction was overwhelmingly positive and supportive."

He added that Goldman Sachs "couldn't have the clients we have if we were anti-client."

Blankfein defended keeping the combined role of chairman and chief executive, although he praised Goldman's board as being diverse and "quite, quite knowledgeable."

"Externally there is one voice for the firm, which I will tell you is a good thing, not a bad thing," Blankfein said, "but internally there’s lots of responsibility and accountability by independent directors."

He said that "of course" there is a succession plan in place but, like Warren Buffett at Berkshire Hathaway , Blankfein's successor "doesn't specifically know" who he or she is. "We have a lot of terrific senior executives," he added.

He does not plan on stepping down anytime soon, however.

"My plan is, this is a terrific job, it’s interesting, you get to be in a lot of different industries... I get to hang around with some of the smartest people, and deal with great clients around significant problems that have a lot of consequence for the world," he said.

Investment banking "absolutely it’s a growth business" around the world, Blankfein said.

"There are businesses and markets that didn’t exist. My predecessors didn’t go to China three or four times a year like I do, or India three times a year like I do. It just wasn’t an opportunity," he said.

"If you think of what an investment bank does, which is advise people on their growth plans, finance those plans, manage assets for them, these were not places where wealth was being created or where companies were being formed. The world has gotten much bigger for investment banking."

However, not so much in Europe or in the U.S. Like Jim O'Neill, head of Goldman's asset management unit, Blankfein said the U.S. "is slower than people thought we would have been at this point, is obviously in a growth mode but at a lower trajectory."

Blankfein steered clear of endorsing a presidential candidate, saying he's a registered Democrat and a Rockefeller Republican with an email inbox stuffed with invitations to fundraisers for both sides.

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