If the name Greg Smith does not mean anything to you, then perhaps you had left the planet yesterday in honour of Pi Day, March 14th (written American style that is 3/14; close enough to Pi = 3.1415926535…). When the news hit me, I could not help but think that Lent can be the time of many different forms of penitent behaviour.
Mr. Smith decided to quit his job with Goldman Sachs (a major investment bank) and also to do so by offering an op-ed piece to the New York Times (NYT), which they published. He had been upset, after 12 years working for Goldman Sachs, about the investment bank’s culture: “the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money…” Fittingly, the NYT adorned the op-ed with a Kerlow cartoon of vultures taking their meal of a carcass. Birds of a feather, flock together? Stark imagery, eh.
Many different views were expressed yesterday about Mr. Smith and his action, and his erstwhile employers issued a response in the form of an internal memo, which not-surprisingly does not see things the same way but understandably laments the way their now-former employee went about his leaving. “In a company of our size, it is not shocking that some people could feel disgruntled. But that does not and should not represent our firm of more than 30,000 people. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. But, it is unfortunate that an individual opinion about Goldman Sachs is amplified in a newspaper and speaks louder than the regular, detailed and intensive feedback you have provided the firm and independent, public surveys of workplace environments.”
I imagine that Smith and Sachs will continue to trend on the Internet for a few days, not least because some of his views suggest he is a man with a conscience, who has seen the error of his ways and been ready to buck his head against the financial megalith. “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.” His revelations that clients were sometimes referred to as “muppets” will no doubt strike some clients and non-clients as offensive or dismissive. Some of his observations about himself are a little odd (my emphasis): “When I was a first-year analyst I didn’t know where the bathroom was, or how to tie my shoelaces.” Hard to imagine that latter part was true and that Goldmans thought they could turn this fledgling into a keen investment banker. But, literary license aside, for a while.
I wondered why the NYT published the letter. To encourage others who feel similarly disgruntled with their employers? Good news about bad guys? Dramatic insight into a part of ‘Wall Street’ that is already on the high list of ‘most hated’? Coming soon after another report of how living on lower bonuses was ‘stressing out’ some who work on the Street, I wondered how the bile would pile up about the apparently vile behaviour of the money-movers and money shakers.
What will Mr. Smith’s seek to do now is the question I have on my mind. Will he be looking to ‘repay’ some of the clients that were bilked? Will he seek to be contrite by helping the helpless or the needy? Will he do more to expose the behaviour he apparently now abhors? Will he do the talk show and night show circuits? Will he go hungry and homeless now he is jobless? My wife has signed up at our church for a quiet Saturday session on forgiveness. Should I send Mr. Smith an invitation? Is he a man in need of support or has he found that enough by ‘coming clean’? Many will think that Goldmans can take care of themselves, but can Mr. Smith take care of himself and his needs now that he has exposed what he thinks ails his former firm? Will he now be caught between losing old friends and assailed by those who want him to be their friends?
Doors open. Doors close. Life is full of challenges that can become opportunities.
My second grader told me this morning that her favourite Muppet character is Miss Piggy. “We are so alike: ‘gorgeous’, ‘supremely talented’, but always ‘still just little moi’”. I hope Greg Smith can find the same ‘love’ in coming day.