Simon Carr: Rich, powerful and generous with his verbosity

He could hang Istanbul off his charm bracelet. He's probably got golden bones

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You don't often get the chance of a close-up session with the chairman of Goldman Sachs. I think we got on pretty well. We're ham and eggs. I say that because he is American and we all want him to feel at home.

Gerald Corrigan is the head of the world's most successful financial institution. Weighing in at – I'd say 450lbs – he is, like his bank, too big to fail.

Yes, he is fantastically rich. You couldn't fit his personal wealth into the dome of St Paul's. He could hang Istanbul off his charm bracelet. He's probably got golden bones. And he seemed happy to agree he had helped Greece into semi-bankruptcy, hoping perhaps to buy it for his wife when the price was right.

But he's sensitive to public opinion and we all noticed he didn't come to the Treasury in his chariot pulled by unicorns. He left at home his suit made from extinct animals. He knows that the very, very, very rich need to look like us, as much as possible, and he has some of the right resources.

He has the face of Tammany Hall, and this effect was reinforced yesterday by the group of gangsters, teamsters and putsch-artists who followed him in. One of them was obviously Guy Ritchie. The others were equally obviously armed, possibly with bazookas. When they left (they turned out to be visitors), Mr Corrigan looked several billion dollars less rich. His mouth hardly moves when he issues his gargling speech. The words come out with grinding emphasis. The most banal of his remarks sound oracular. He also answered questions on two levels. It was a BOGOF (buy one get one free) – unecessarily generous, the committee came to feel.

"Do you trust the risk management of other institutions?" John McFall asked. He replied: "I will suggest to you that when you look at the crisis, one of the clear lessons is we must learn to do a better job." Now those 26 words may seem to lack content, but if you take 45 minutes to say them they create a very different impression. He told us that there was such a thing as "risk monitoring" and was careful to differentiate it from "risk management". My colleague noted down: "I want to kill myself."

John Thurso asked a terrific question. When Goldman Sachs was a private partnership, all the partners had their entire personal wealth at risk. Consequently, the partners behaved – what's the word? – prudently. When people place bets with other people's money there is no such incentive.

Is that not at the core of it? Mr Corrigan's answer to that will probably go on through the Easter recess but yours, I bet, comes out more quickly.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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