Is Blankfein’s beard really just a beard?

February 12, 2013

Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein has been sporting a beard lately, which has some people asking: is he on his way out?

The 58-year-old former commodities salesman shaved his beard, lost 50 pounds and quit smoking as he prepared to take over the reins of Goldman Sachs in 2006. He also “started dressing more like a banker and less like a renegade,” according to William Cohan, a former investment banker who wrote a book about Goldman Sachs.

Although Blankfein hasn’t been seen sporting motorcycle jackets or packing on the pounds yet, he surprised crowds at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last month with more than a five o’clock shadow. And on Tuesday he appeared on CNBC again with an even fuller beard.

There has been speculation for years that Blankfein is ready to leave Goldman – particularly while the Wall Street bank was facing an SEC lawsuit, government investigations and the departure of a publicity-seeking employee. But he has steadfastly denied any intentions of stepping down, most recently at a conference in December, where he said he is still quite happy coming into work at 200 West Street every day.

Beards can be signs of impending changes for C-Suite. Ken Lewis, the ex-CEO of Bank of America, came back from vacation in September 2009 with a full-grown beard, and announced his retirement soon after. And if Blankfein is anything like his predecessors, he may have his sights set on an even more prominent financial chieftan role, since the also-bearded Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is reportedly planning to step down in January 2014. (Or maybe he’s just moving to Williamsburg.)

But, enough speculation. As Goldman spokesman Jake Siewert points out, “Sometimes a beard is just a beard.”

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