In an extraordinary move, a prominent executive at Goldman Sachs has resigned on grounds of ethical discomfort with a company culture of maximizing profits at clients' expense.
Greg Smith – a Goldman Sachs executive director and head of the firm’s United States equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa – today reignited discourse over Wall Street business practices by expressing, in a New York Times op-Ed, his reasons for ending his almost 12 year relationship with the company.
I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of [Goldman Sachs'] 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.
To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money.
What's remarkable about this act of conscientious objection from an insider is that it is neither a legally forced mea culpa nor a broad, anti-corporate screed from the left, easily dismissed by anyone not already in the choir. It reads as a deeply disappointed letter of resignation from a longtime believer in Goldman Sachs' integrity and ethical culture - a man who no longer recognizes the company he was once proud to work for.
That said, one wonders how many milliseconds it will take before G.S.' massive PR engines kick into overdrive, representing Smith as an unreliable narrator – someone who was about to get fired anyway and is going on the offensive to cover his own privates in advance.
If, as Smith alleges, an increasingly cynical culture of greed continues to thrive at the heart of one of the major drivers of the global economy, the question is what force – whether government regulation, an outraged populace, or the self-interest of ruffled clients who don't like being treated as marks in a high stakes con – it would take to restore some measure of integrity to a system that has the power to sustain or ruin so many people's lives.
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