Goldman Sachs & Greg Smith: It Doesn’t Change the Facts
By: W.T. “Bill” McKibben, Senior Counsel, The Great Lakes Group
Remember last March when a Goldman Sachs executive very publicly resigned with a scathing OP-ED in the New York Times? Well, last week (2012.10.23) Greg Smith released a book fleshing out his description of Goldman’s decay over the twelve years of his impressive career from the heady time when he made the cut and became an intern. Prior to the book’s release, Goldman fired back. They deny that they play any of the games that Smith claims are routine.
The investment banking firm paints Smith as a disgruntled employee who left not out of disgust with a deteriorating culture, but because he was refused an increase in his annual bonus from a half-million to a million dollars. Smith doesn’t deny that request, but suggests that instead of select items, Goldman should release his entire personnel file. He says it will show twelve years of rave reviews.
While smearing Greg Smith may blunt his criticism, the fact is, Goldman has paid out more than a half-billion dollars to make charges of the very kind Smith hangs his arguments on, go away. Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein told the Times of London, that he is “just a banker doing God’s work.” Comedian Stephen Colbert noted that “Blankfein had not indicated which god. Perhaps Shiva, Lord of Destruction.”
Blankfein has hired a lawyer with a history of defending high profile corporate crooks; not what those working in God’s vineyards normally do. On the face of it Greg Smith has an impressive track record. During his twelve years at Goldman he rose from intern to a high ranking position in their London office. He was chosen as one of ten out of more than 30,000 Goldman employees to appear in their college recruiting video. He was certainly a key player.
A Congressional investigation detailed that Goldman routinely sold packages of crappy investment vehicles to their customers (AKA “Muppets”) all the while betting that they would fail. Testifying before a Congressional Committee, CEO Blankfein denied knowledge of these practices. However, the Committee trotted out internal documents putting his denial in “Pants on Fire” territory.
So it comes down to this. Greg Smith’s motivation for leaving may or may not have been pristine. However, his motivation does not make his claims untrue. Goldman Sachs is not a nice outfit. They are not doing God’s work. They grind out huge profits moving money around. In Goldman’s case not a role that contributes to the well-being of society.
Understand, many investment banks play an important role. They provide bucks to keep major organizations in business and serve as advisors to businesses and to institutional investors. Problem is Goldman Sachs and some other bottom feeders play both sides of the street. The game that regulators during the Great Depression decided was a really bad idea. The laws set up back then to protect against the activities Greg Smith sees as toxic were swept away in the 1980’s and 90’s, leading to the recession we are struggling to overcome. Bad idea? You bet! Once a bad idea, always a bad idea.