A middling executive at Wall Street’s most powerful firm turned the global business press on its ear by leaving Goldman Sachs with a flourish, publishing an op-ed in the New York Times, calling the culture of the bank “toxic.”
After the piece hit, Goldman Sachs went into damage control and lost $2 billion in market share. But the power of Smith’s departure isn’t that someone from the inner echelon of a secretive institution accuses the firm of (shock!) greed.
The real genius of the Goldman Sachs kiss-off is that Smith mined a deep vein hidden in the psyche of every employed person: The “take this job and shove it” fantasy.
People have a vague sense of outrage toward Wall Street after the credit crisis and taxpayer-funded bailout, but frankly most don’t understand the banking industry, nor how financial instruments like derivatives trading brought the global economy to a screeching halt.
Yet everyone has harbored, at some point in their career, the fantasy to throw down their work, stand on their desk and make a dramatic departure from their job. Who hasn’t wanted a “Jerry Maguire” moment? (Even Darth Vader is getting into the act, explaining in a “Daily Mash” op-ed: “Why I am leaving the Empire.”)
There are others who blazed the way for Smith – like Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant. Frustrated by a passenger, Slater took to the loudspeaker to announce his 2010 resignation. Then he grabbed a beer, deployed the evacuation chute, and slid away - out of a job and into posterity (and Larry King Live).
Or the Toronto Whole Foods employee who group mailed a scathing resignation letter to every employee in the company, likening the grocery chain to “a faux hippy Wal-Mart.” Even this week, an ex-Google employee fired off a scathing blast on a Microsoft blog about why he left Google, as CNNMoney reports.
Will Greg Smith’s allegations that the bank puts profits ahead of clients do permanent harm to Goldman Sach’s reputation? Or course not. The company’s share value, after taking a more than 3% hit Wednesday, was back up 2% the next day. Why?
“Goldman has put itself before its clients its entire existence,” William Cohan – author of “Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World" – told CNN. “Its clients understand that – I don’t think it’s any secret.
“But you’re dealing with, frankly, a cartel on Wall Street where there are very few options for clients nowadays,” Cohan said. “It’s gotten even worse since the credit crisis when you lost Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, and Merrill Lynch isn’t what it used to be.”
So Goldman Sachs will continue apace, because – well, there are few other choices. But guys like Greg Smith are one-in-a-million, the few brave (or dumb? or rich?) enough to make the dramatic departure fantasy a reality.
So all hail Mr. Smith – the “average Joe” of the 1%. We smile and fist-pump in salute.And then we go back to work