How to Burn a Bridge (or Two)

Greg Smith decided to resign from his job in a decidedly public way by publishing his resignation letter as an op-ed piece for the New York Times. Here is an excerpt:

Why I am leaving Goldman Sachs

TODAY is my last day at Goldman Sachs. After almost 12 years at the firm ”” first as a summer intern while at Stanford, then in New York for 10 years, and now in London ”” I believe I have worked here 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.

He adds a bit more clarity further on:

How did we get here? The firm changed the way it thought about leadership. 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.

What are three quick ways to become a leader? a) Execute on the firm”™s “axes,”? which is Goldman-speak for persuading your clients to invest in the stocks or other products that we are trying to get rid of because they are not seen as having a lot of potential profit. b) “Hunt Elephants.”? In English: get your clients ”” some of whom are sophisticated, and some of whom aren”™t ”” to trade whatever will bring the biggest profit to Goldman. Call me old-fashioned, but I don”™t like selling my clients a product that is wrong for them. c) Find yourself sitting in a seat where your job is to trade any illiquid, opaque product with a three-letter acronym.

Today, many of these leaders display a Goldman Sachs culture quotient of exactly zero percent. I attend derivatives sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients. It”™s purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them. If you were an alien from Mars and sat in on one of these meetings, you would believe that a client”™s success or progress was not part of the thought process at all.

It makes me ill 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,”? sometimes over internal e-mail.

You can read the full letter here.

His resignation letter bore a canny resemblance to the one publicly submitted by Darth Vader. It reads as follows:

Why I am leaving the Empire.

TODAY is my last day at the Empire. After almost 12 years, first as a summer intern, then in the Death Star and now in London, I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its massive, genocidal space machines. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.

To put the problem in the simplest terms, throttling people with your mind continues to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making people dead.

The Empire is one of the galaxy’s largest and most important oppressive regimes and it is too integral to galactic murder to continue to act this way. The firm has veered so far from the place I joined right out of Yoda College that I can no longer in good conscience point menacingly and say that I identify with what it stands for.

For more than a decade I recruited and mentored candidates, some of whom were my secret children, through our gruelling interview process. In 2006 I managed the summer intern program in detecting strange disturbances in the Force for the 80 younglings who made the cut.

I knew it was time to leave when I realised I could no longer speak to these students inside their heads and tell them what a great place this was to work.

How did we get here? The Empire changed the way it thought about leadership. Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and killing your former mentor with a light sabre. Today, if you make enough money you will be promoted into a position of influence, even if you have a disturbing lack of faith.

What are three quick ways to become a leader? a) Execute on the firm’s ‘axes’, which is Empire-speak for persuading your clients to invest in ‘prime-quality’ residential building plots on Alderaan that don’t exist and have not existed since we blew it up. b) ‘Hunt Elephants’. In English: get your clients – some of whom are sophisticated, and some of whom aren’t – to tempt their friends to Cloud City and then betray them. c) Hand over rebel smugglers to an incredibly fat gangster.

When I was a first-year analyst I didn’t know where the bathroom was, or how to tie my shoelaces telepathically. I was taught to be concerned with learning the ropes, finding out what a protocol droid was and putting my helmet on properly
so people could not see my badly damaged head.

My proudest moments in life – the pod race, being lured over to the Dark Side and winning a bronze medal for mind control ping-pong at the Midi-Chlorian Games – known as the Jedi Olympics – have all come through hard work, with no shortcuts.

The Empire today has become too much about shortcuts and not enough about remote strangulation. It just doesn”™t feel right to me anymore.

I hope this can be a wake-up call. Make killing people in terrifying and unstoppable ways the focal point of your business again. Without it you will not exist. Weed out the morally bankrupt people, no matter how much non-existent Alderaan real estate they sell. And get the culture right again, so people want to make millions of voices cry out in terror before being suddenly silenced.

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