NEW YORK — Goldman Sachs Group Inc. on Thursday said its top 30 executives won't receive a cash bonus for 2009 as the Wall Street bank bows to public pressure about runaway compensation packages.
The move approved by Goldman's board is an attempt to quell public criticism about multimillion-dollar bonus packages expected to be doled out this year. The firm's 31,000 employees are on track to earn an average of more than $700,000 apiece this year, the most in its 136-year history.
Investors will also get a say on pay: Goldman said shareholders will get an advisory vote on the company's compensation policies. The firm has been in private discussions with major investors during the past several weeks in an effort to ward off backlash over its record compensation pool.
Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman's chairman and chief executive, has given a number of speeches about compensation since the company's annual meeting earlier this year. The changes to compensation of its 30-person management committee are part of his plan to better align payouts with long-term performance and the interests of the firm.
The investment bank, considered to be the most profitable in Wall Street history, saw its third-quarter profit soar as rallying equity markets led to trading gains and strong investment performance. The firm also set aside $5.35 billion for benefits and compensation during the quarter, putting bonuses on track to set a record this year.
Still, Wall Street has come under severe criticism in the wake of last year's meltdown, with many saying that the Street's compensation regime led its players to focus excessively on short-term gains.
Responding to those calls, Goldman's board voted to make all discretionary compensation for the committee, which comprises all global divisional and regional leadership, in the form of shares at risk, which must be held for five years. On top of that, the holding period includes a stronger provision to allow Goldman to take back the shares in cases where the employee failed to properly account for risk.
"The measures that we are announcing today reflect the compensation principles that we articulated at our shareholders' meeting in May. We believe our compensation policies are the strongest in our industry and ensure that compensation accurately reflects the firm's performance and incentivize behavior that is in the public's and our shareholders' best interests," Blankfein said.
Goldman shares were recently down 0.1% at $166.22. The stock has doubled this year.