FORTUNE -- 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.
"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.
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.
A former top Goldman banker describes how the bank's approach to ethics and integrity has changed over the years.Sep 24, 2013 12:58 PM ET
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FORTUNE -- Goldman Sachs is growing more nervous about the bond bubble.
In the past year, the investment bank has dramatically cut the amount of money it could lose on any given day if interest rates were to rise, which would cause bond prices to fall. The bank has also upped its own borrowing in MOREStephen Gandel, senior editor - Jan 30, 2013 1:35 PM ET
The bank took in nearly $6 billion from proprietary trading in 2012, even as more plain-vanilla lending revenue continues to grow.
FORTUNE -- Here comes the new Goldman Sachs. And it looks a little bit like the old Goldman Sachs.
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FORTUNE -- Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, says watch out for the bond market. Blankfein, talking Wednesday at The New York Times' Dealbook conference, said there appears to be a general complacency about low interest rates when he talks to investors.
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FORTUNE -- Shakespearean is a trope often used to describe the machinations of Wall Street power players, but only the Bard could do justice to the treacheries reportedly playing out at the top of Goldman Sachs. The story leaking out of the bank has all the ingredients MOREKatie Benner - Apr 16, 2012 10:28 AM ET
Pay is down at Goldman Sachs, but Blankfein still gets $5 million in cash for 2011.
FORTUNE - It's still good to be the king on Wall Street, just less so.
On Friday, Goldman Sachs (GS) said it paid its top five executives 35% less than it did a year ago. The company cut CEO Lloyd Blankfein's pay to $12 million for 2011 from $18 million a year ago.
That knocks Blankfein considerably MOREStephen Gandel, senior editor - Apr 13, 2012 10:02 AM ET
Exclusive: Goldman Sachs prepares for life after Lloyd Blankfein, and Gary Cohn is the leading candidate to succeed him as CEO.
FORTUNE -- Lloyd Blankfein may step down as chief executive of Goldman Sachs as early as this summer; and president and chief operating officer Gary Cohn is the lead candidate to replace him, according to a Goldman executive and a source close to the firm.
A Goldman spokesman declined to comment.
To be MOREKatie Benner - Feb 17, 2012 4:17 PM ET
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