The Silver Lining in the Goldman Sachs Dustup

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I suspect by now you’ve heard all about the scathing New York Times Opinion piece by Greg Smith, the Goldman Sachs senior executive who announced that he was resigning after twelve years with the famous (or infamous) firm because,

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

and,

“I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.”

He adds,

“It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off.”

 According to Smith, Goldman Sachs insiders often refer to clients as,

“Muppets.”

For me it’s especially timely, having just written a couple of posts about the importance of having empathy—especially for one’s customers. My first reaction was surprise—that someone at such a high level at Goldman Sachs was willing to make such public admissions. My second reaction was, “Bravo for Mr. Smith!”

Then, later in the day I came across an unsigned editorial from the editors of Bloomberg…mercilessly attacking Greg Smith. The headline reads: Yes, Mr. Smith, Goldman Sachs is All About Making Money.

Dripping with sarcasm and caustic attacks, the piece begins:

“Apparently, when Greg Smith arrived at Goldman Sachs Group almost 12 years ago, the legendary investment firm was something like the Make-A-Wish Foundation — existing only to bring light and peace and happiness to the world.”

The editorial concludes by saying,

“Smith’s lament that the bank no longer serves (client) needs above and beyond its own does not tug at our heartstrings.”

Really?!

Aside from the obvious question, “What heartstrings?” it left me almost breathless in dismay. Is this really what we’ve come to? The decision makers of a leading business publication rushing to defend the most callous business practices and gleefully attacking someone who dares suggest that there’s any role for ethics or empathy or integrity in the race to cash in? Suggesting that any such expectation is naïve and self-serving? It’s hard to imagine any more astounding lack of empathy…or civility…or any moral compass whatsoever than the Bloomberg view embodies. 

Then I began reading the posted comments and my faith in humanity was immediately restored. I haven’t tried to wade through all of the nearly 500 (and no doubt growing number of) comments, but I read many of them, and I didn’t find one that agreed with Bloomberg. On the contrary, comment after comment after comment took Bloomberg to task for its unfair attack, its deliberate oversimplification and mischaracterization of Greg Smith’s views.

So, apparently I’m not the only one who appreciated Greg Smith’s candor and was offended by Bloomberg’s attacks. If the worst impulses of capitalism have been manifested at Goldman Sachs, apparently the same virus has infected Bloomberg. After what we’ve witnessed on Wall Street in recent years, I guess that’s no surprise. But one would like to imagine that at some point the magnitude of the transgressions would begin to sink in with the transgressors. One would hope there might be some glimmer of introspection and accountability. Greg Smith gives us reason to hope there might be, while the editors at Bloomberg vividly demonstrate how far we have to go.

Thankfully, it’s now clear that simply disregarding empathy and ethics in business is not as widely embraced as Bloomberg would have us believe.

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