By now, you have probably read, or at least heard about Greg Smith’s already infamous resignation essay he published in the New York Times this morning, on why he was resigning from investment bank Goldman Sachs. If you have missed the fun, you can read the letter here.
Goldman Sachs, of course, is notorious for being an exemplar of every kind of repugnant behavior that outsiders think of when they think of Wall Street. Merciless exploitation of clients. Testosterone-laden competitiveness. A profit drive that would make Gordon Gekko blush. Years ago, when Enron failed, the magazine where I worked published an op-ed that noted how those who work in the energy commodities markets have a higher tendency to display sociopathy than others. I have often wondered how that same litmus would apply to the financial services industry in general, Wall Street in particular, and Goldman Sachs in specific.
Meanwhile, the viral buzz on this letter has already been pretty impressive. There is already a Star Wars parody of the letter (Q: What’s the difference between Goldman Sachs and the Galactic Empire? One is a soul-crushing regime with the power to destroy planets. The other built the Death Star.) and there is a surging interest in a Twitter feed that purportedly quotes things overheard in the Goldman Sachs elevators that pretty much confirm every horrible thing you ever heard about the culture there.
There is even a rumor afoot that Goldman is imposing a three-year nondisparagement clause into new work agreements because of this. If that is so, my thought is…they waited until now to do this? One would think a company that high-profile would have taken such measures long before now.
I am reminded of an incident that happened a few months after I left my previous employer to join National Underwriter. On the eve of the annual budget meeting, somebody sent a long, scathing letter to every employee and member of the Board of my old company. It basically called for the ouster of the executive director, the deputy executive director and the head of HR, cataloging a bunch of complaints that had been often whispered by the rank and file, but never uttered so publicly. The day it landed, I started getting all of these e-mails from people either congratulating me for tearing the company a new one, or asking me if I was the author. I had not written the letter, however. I didn’t even know about it, and every time I asked somebody to send me a copy, they’d decline, citing concerns that they would be fired if it got traced back to them. Eventually I did read a copy, and the letter was pretty harsh. But I really had nothing to do with it.