Until Greg Smith pulled a Don Draper in Wednesday's New York Times, the Goldman Sachs executive director was an anonymous Wall Street player.
In an op-ed piece in the paper entitled “Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs,” Smith describes a culture of greed and cynicism that he says has resulted in a decline in the firm’s “moral fiber.”
“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,” Smith writes. “And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.”
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Many on Twitter and Facebook seized on Smith’s note as a bold and courageous stand against corporate avarice. Unmentioned, however, was how reminiscent of “Mad Men” the op-ed was.
In the fourth season of the AMC drama, Draper (Jon Hamm) reacts to the departure of his advertising agency’s top client, the cigarette manufacturer Lucky Strike, by taking out a full-page ad in, you guessed it, the New York Times.
Under a banner headline that reads “Why I’m Quitting Tobacco,” Draper writes, “When Lucky Strike moved their business elsewhere, I realized here was my chance to be someone who can sleep at night, because I know that what I’m selling doesn’t kill my customers.”
Of course, Smith depicts a different form of toxicity at Goldman Sachs. But he echoes similar themes from Draper’s note — a long-term and lucrative relationship gone sour and clients who get the short shrift.
In particular, Smith writes that the Goldman Sachs has been exploiting its clients for short term profits by encouraging them to invest in lousy stocks and “opaque” products with snazzy acronyms.
In a bit of office lingo that is no doubt giving Goldman Sachs PR folks fits this morning, Smith reveals that clients are often labelled as “muppets.”
“It astounds me how little senior management gets a basic truth: If clients don’t trust you they will eventually stop doing business with you,” Smith writes. “It doesn’t matter how smart you are.”
Of course not everyone was buying what Smith was selling. The populist tone hit a real snag in a passage in which he described such past triumphs as being selected as a Rhodes Scholar finalist and winning a bronze medal for table tennis at the Maccabiah Games in Israel. That drew some scorn on Twitter.
“If I write acid resignation letter one day, should I mention 1980s athletic exploits at Camp Young Judea?” tweeted Yahoo business and economics columnist Daniel Gross.
A tougher crowd may still await Smith. In his note, he reveals that Wednesday is his last day at the office.
It's not clear how his little missive will play in the halls of Goldman Sachs. On “Mad Men,” the crew at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce were furious about the Times piece, and agency partner Bert Cooper (Robert Morse) quit in disgust.
But Draper did get a new client out of the gambit — the American Cancer Society.