Published on May 3, 2013
Goldman Sachs: Making Money by Stealing It
Goldman Executive Resigns
Broken clocks are right twice a day. On March 14, so was The New York Times. It gave rare op-ed space to high level Goldman executive Greg Smith for views worth sharing. He served as executive director and head of the firm’s domestic equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Headlining, “Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs,” he said:
After almost 12 years with the firm, today was his last day. He worked there “long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.”
In “simplest terms,” he said client interests are sidelined. Goldman thinks only about making money. “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.”
In less blunt terms than Black, this writer, and other critics, he stopped short of explaining its grand theft model, but comments he made suggested it.
An earlier Goldman culture contributed to its success, he said. “It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients.”
Exaggerated? Absolutely, whatever minor differences between today and earlier existed. According to Smith, “virtually no trace” of what he admired remains. Whatever pride he once had is now gone. It was time to leave when he no longer could look aspiring students wanting Goldman jobs “in the eye and tell them what a great place this was to work.”
How can it be operating like a crime family. It’s business model involves grand theft. Customers are defrauded, not helped. Politicians are bought like toothpaste. Laws are subverted and ignored. Others are discarded or rewritten at its behest. Economies are wrecked for profit.
When future Goldman histories are written, honest ones will say Blankfein, president Gary Cohn, and other top executives “lost hold of the firm’s culture on their watch. I truly believe that this decline in the firm’s moral fiber represents the single most serious threat to its long-run survival.”
Smith said his career involved advising two of the largest global hedge funds, five of America’s largest asset managers, and three of the Middle East’s most prominent sovereign wealth funds. His clients manage over a trillion dollars in assets.
He took pride, he said, advising them “to do what I believe is right for them, even if it means less money for the firm. This view is becoming increasingly unpopular at Goldman Sachs.” He knew it was time to leave.
“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.”
Three key ways, include:
(1) Advising clients to invest in assets Goldman wants to dump, including toxic ones.
(2) Getting them to buy what makes Goldman most money.
(3) Trading “any illiquid, opaque product with a three-letter acronym,” no matter how much toxic or without merit.
He attended sales meetings devoid of ways to help clients. They’re about maximizing Goldman’s profit, no matter how illegally. “It makes me ill,” he said, “how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months, I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as ‘muppets.’ ”
They’re marks to be manipulated and scammed for profit. He can’t explain how senior managers don’t understand that losing client trust means forfeiting their business. No matter if you’re the smartest guys in the room. They’ll know you’re smart enough to scam them without hearing back room insults about “muppets,” “ripping eyeballs out,” and “getting paid” at their expense.
He hopes his article “can be a wake-up call to” Goldman’s board. “Make the client the focal point of your business again. Without clients you will not make money. In fact, you will not exist.”
“Weed out the morally bankrupt people, no matter how much money they make for the firm.” Make “people want to work here for the right reasons. People who care only about making money will not sustain this firm — or the trust of its clients — for very much longer.”