The Common Good

Exec to Goldman Sachs (via the New York Times): 'I Quit.'

Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images
Protester at an anti-poverty demonstration outside GS's London offices, October 2012. Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images

A long-term employee of Goldman Sachs today resigned in the most public of places — The New York Times. Greg Smith, an executive at the banking giant wrote that he was leaving because

the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money

and that

the firm has veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.

The global banking crisis and the ensuing bailouts did a number of things — not least to paint all employees of the big banks with the same brush — they were all money-grabbers, not caring about who they took money from or how they invested it. Greg Smith’s exposition suggests that there was more to his view of the industry than money:

It might sound surprising to a skeptical public, but culture was always a vital part of Goldman Sachs’s success. It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients. The culture was the secret sauce that made this place great and allowed us to earn our clients’ trust for 143 years. It wasn’t just about making money; this alone will not sustain a firm for so long. It had something to do with pride and belief in the organization. I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that made me love working for this firm for many years. I no longer have the pride, or the belief.…

I knew it was time to leave when I realized I could no longer look students in the eye and tell them what a great place this was to work.…The firm changed the way it thought about leadership. Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money for the firm (and are not currently an ax murderer) you will be promoted into a position of influence.…Today, many of these leaders display a Goldman Sachs culture quotient of exactly zero percent.

Ouch.

Goldman Sachs have quickly come out and rebutted much of what Smith asserts (in the Wall Street Journal, very kind of Rupert Murdoch to give them a voice) — but this is an insight that many will be interested in reading, and probably hope that more people within the banking sector feel the same way.

Jack Palmer is a communications assistant at Sojourners. Follow Jack on Twitter @JackPalmer88.

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