Greg Smith, Goldman Sachs and The (Higher) Road Less Traveled

http://www.google.com/imgres?hl=en&safe=off&biw=1280&bih=637&gbv=2&tbm=isch&tbnid=4BZmaGRiTh2tAM:&imgrefurl=http://www.entmoney.com/2011/06/08/food-for-thought-top-wall-street-executives-unbelievable-payouts/&docid=g3fnQ4Wnvmxe_M&imgurl=http://www.entmoney.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Wall-Street.jpeg&w=840&h=681&ei=mZxhT_KjBfDaiQLmvejBCA&zoom=1&iact=hc&vpx=117&vpy=314&dur=3763&hovh=202&hovw=249&tx=179&ty=92&sig=109020972658145264491&page=1&tbnh=129&tbnw=163&start=0&ndsp=18&ved=1t:429,r:6,s:0Class.

Cynicism.

Pride.

Morals.

Entitlement.

Professionalism.

Accountability.

Many thoughts ran through my mind as I saw the New York Times Op-Ed headline on my LinkedIn news-feed: Exec’s Scathing Letter: Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs.  Having spent a short five-year stint in the financial services industry, I was naturally drawn to see what or how this letter could be so scathing. Apparently, I am not the only one who was curious either.  The NY Times version of this piece was shared was shared on LinkedIn 2,606 times; at 10:15 PM, there was almost 200 tweets of this story in the past hour; even the spin-cycle and news-jacking was quickly in effect when the story broke, with 1,600 related news stories on my Google News Feed.

Greg Smith, was a Goldman Sachs executive director and head of the firm’s United States equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa prior to yesterday’s very public resignation. Seizing upon the letter’s theme, journalists, tweeters and bloggers alike were quick to make comparisons to Jerry Maguire’s crisis of conscience in Cameron Crowe’s 1996 film.

I love this scene for a lot of reasons, but the key reason is he last ten seconds (watch it again if you need to). Two colleagues who are supportive on the outside, yet cynical – derisive even – under their breath. It’s at the heart of what’s wrong with working professionals in this country today. And this mentality is pervasive.

As my twitter feed continued to vomit another 556 tweets about Smith’s resignation, I couldn’t help but feel like the only person who thought this “scathing” letter was at first much ado about nothing…then, as the day – and the story gained steam – much, much more of a problem with people in general, and maybe the country as whole.

I was left to wonder – am I the only one who thought that this move – publishing a resignation letter in one of the country’s leading media outlets – was not only overkill, but was also in terribly poor taste? Is it really news? Why do people really find it so fascinating? Am I so far in the minority to feel this way, without a single workplace “expert” to support me?

So I began to analyze why I was feeling like such the contrarian:

1. Was this news (as in, did the author break a story, or shed new light on an existing story)? Why so fascinating?

The quick and easy answer is no, and it was apparent in the opening salvo from Smith:

To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money.

You mean to tell me after the Great Recession, and the Great Bailout, and the well-reported stories that Big Banks continued to pay out huge bonuses to CEO’s … that anyone would be shocked to hear Goldman Sachs puts profits first? Perhaps if we had a huge protest aimed at these dastardly, foul, and loathsome devils, one that would occupy the very neighborhoods they worked – maybe if that protest had taken place recently, like in the last six months, to highlight the crooked policies and downright callous attitude of Big Banks, then maybe this would be helpful – no?

Yes, Mr. Smith did indeed shed some light for us here. Wait – I know you are saying out loud at the screen as you sip your coffee or smoothie – “it’s not news! That’s why the Times published it as an Op-Ed (Opinion-Editorial) piece!”

Great- I got it! It’s an opinion. So now, for the more important question:

2. Was this in good taste?

Again, I have come down on the side of a decided “no.”  Mr. Smith has every right to feel upset, betrayed and outraged by the shift in the corporate culture at Goldman Sachs.  He has every right to question the moral fiber of the leadership with so much evidence to support a lack of concern for the client. And I applaud him for deciding he had enough, and it appears he will be seeking a new career in a new industry (I’d be surprised if he works in the financial services industry again).

That said – what does making his opinion public actually accomplish? This letter is not only the least bit newsworthy, it is horrifically unprofessional. What happened to a sense of class, decorum – a strong sense of taking the higher road in bad situations? Where has that gone?  He legitimately questions the moral fiber of Goldman Sachs – yet by making this resignation public, he willfully ignores the hypocrisy this public resignation creates!

It dawns on me that the title of my blog reflects a yearning for something a little more pure in the world.  Perfecting Naivety – sure it’s nostalgic – naive even…so what!!What is wrong with that I ask, no I plead??!

I have two children that I pray I am raising to be good people. Yet, they are inundated by a society steeped in cynicism and entitlement.  As a parent, when I have their attention for so very little time in the day, how am I to ensure that the lessons I teach are truly reaching them? How are they to respond to a crisis of conscience when the world offers them examples like this as an acceptable form of behavior – particularly when the behavior is lauded even, judging by the (countless) comments and tweets I have read.

By resigning, Mr. Smith finally held himself responsible for the poor choice of pursuing a career with Goldman Sachs. Publishing the Op-Ed piece was self-serving, and terribly misguided choice on Mr. Smith’s part.  It was an even poorer decision by the New York Times editorial board.

Employers and employees alike must recognize and embrace accountability and eradicate the everyday sentiment of entitlement.

We must make taking the High Road one that is traveled more, not less.

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