A Knee in the Nuts That Means Serious Trouble for Goldman Sachs

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In the New York Times there is an absolutely devastating attack on the culture of Goldman Sachs, by one of its senior executives. He announces that he is resigning today because he has had it with the firm’s alleged practices. He criticises the way in which one of the world’s largest and most important investment banks now looks after the interests of its clients.

This is what is known as a public relations disaster.

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, says that he can no longer look students in the eye and tell them that they should want to work at Goldman Sachs.

He writes:

When the history books are written about Goldman Sachs, they may reflect that the current chief executive officer, Lloyd C. Blankfein, and the president, Gary D. Cohn, lost hold of the firm’s culture on their watch. I truly believe that this decline in the firm’s moral fibre represents the single most serious threat to its long-run survival.

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.

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