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Lloyd Blankfein: Financial crisis taught me a lot about myself

November 13, 2013: 1:42 PM ET

CEO of Goldman Sachs says 2008 and its aftermath made him think about quitting, but ended up making him a better person.

131113092108-lloyd-blankfein-620xaFORTUNE -- Lloyd Blankfein says the financial crisis was, for him, a period of personal growth.

Millions of Americas were facing foreclosure. Many, many more lost their jobs. Blankfein had to face stinging public criticism of his firm.

The Goldman Sachs CEO, speaking at an industry conference on Tuesday, said there were times he thought about quitting. Now he's glad he didn't.

MORE: Goldman still earning its money in soon-to-be banned ways

"You learned a lot about me and my firm," Blankfein told the audience of fellow Wall Streeters. "But I found out a lot of stuff about me, too. I learned that I have much thicker skin than I thought."

Blankfein also said that the financial crisis led to a "bit of a wake-up call" about income inequality. He said that was a good thing. "This country does a great job of creating wealth, but not a great of distributing it," said Blankfein. "But I don't want to do something that stops our ability to build wealth."

Blankfein expressed regret about the complicated mortgage trades his firm did in the run-up to the financial crisis. The transactions made Goldman (GS) as much as $13 billion, but they damaged the firm's reputation. They also led to losses for local governments and taxpayers around the country.

Many have also said that deals exacerbated the economic damage of the financial crisis. Goldman eventually agreed to pay a $550 million fine to settle charges.

MORE: Where have you gone, Goldman Sachs?

Blankfein's annual compensation dropped to $9 million in 2009, from $68.5 million the year before. But his compensation has rebounded. He's been paid $51 million in the past three years. Earlier this month, the Census Bureau said the nation's poverty rate was stuck at 16%, or 47 million people.

On Tuesday, Blankfein also said he wishes he and his colleagues had done a better job back in 2009 of anticipating the criticism of Goldman, and reacting quicker when it came. In late 2009, Blankfein told a reporter that he was just a banker "doing God's work." It's clear now that the quote was taken out of context. Blankfein appears to have been making a joke. It did not go over well.

Blankfein is not the first Wall Streeter to credit the financial crisis with making them a better person. Back in March, Erin Callan, the former CFO of Lehman Brothers, wrote in a New York Times op-ed that she now realizes there is more to life than work. She says she now understands that powerful jobs, and the wealth that comes with them, do not come without a cost. Luckily, for Callan, the financial crisis came along to teach her that. It wasn't as lucky for the rest of us.

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About This Author
Stephen Gandel
Stephen Gandel

Stephen Gandel has covered Wall Street and investing for over 15 years. He joins Fortune from sister publication TIME, where he was a senior business writer and lead blogger for The Curious Capitalist. He has also held positions at Money and Crain's New York Business. Stephen is a four-time winner of the Henry R. Luce Award. His work has also been recognized by the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the New York State Society of CPA and the Association of Area Business Publications. He is a graduate of Washington University, and lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children.

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