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Although often cited in the press as an “indictment” of Goldman Sachs, this book is not a mere diatribe against Goldman. It is just as much Greg Smith’s story of what he treasured about Goldman. He mentions many people he met at Goldman whom he greatly admired. He also notes with pride that Goldman was savvy enough to withstand the 2008 financial meltdown by being one of the few Wall Street firms with the good judgment to turn away from the alluring fool’s gold of subprime mortgage securities. He provides a very well written inside account of his 12-year career at Goldman, rising from intern through the ranks of the equities group as a well regarded trader and salesman.
What Greg Smith portrays is a firm that shifted priorities during his tenure from a place that went the extra mile for its clients (“advising my clients to do what I believe is right for them, even if it means less money for the firm,” as he put it in his NY Times op ed piece) to one that focused primarily on an employee’s “GC’s”—his or her “gross credits” based on net profits realized by the firm on its trades with those clients. The conflict of interest in such cases is obvious. He cites examples from his final year in the GS London office in which the focus on “profits” led certain Goldman employees to take advantage of their clients when it was clear the client had made a mistake or did not understand the essentials of a complex securities trade. To be fair, he cites only a few such examples and emphasizes in an “afterword” that no one should doubt there are thousands of honest and hard-working people who populate the Wall Street firms.
To some degree, what I believe Greg Smith experienced at Goldman reflected a trend we have seen over the past 20 years in other institutions once highly regarded for their professional standards but who have become much more “bottom line” oriented as they have adapted to more competitive business conditions and focused their resources on the most productive sectors of their business. Consider, as an extreme example, Arthur Andersen, once the gold standard of accounting firms, since disgraced in the Enron scandal. I personally witnessed this trend myself over 20-some years practicing in a so-called “Big Law” firm.
I think Greg Smith is absolutely right that for the sake of a professional firm’s culture, reputation and long-time survival, it has to get the balance between professional standards and business priorities right. In his opinion, GS had fallen below an acceptable professional standard by the time he left the firm. Others within Goldman will no doubt disagree with him in good faith. In any case, the book provides a couple of apt warnings. First, for those considering a career in a top Wall Street firm, be prepared for constant pressure to produce profits in a way that may run counter to the best interests of your clients, even if perfectly legal. You should decide whether you are up to handling that pressure and maintaining your personal ethical standards. Second, if you are doing business with Goldman Sachs (or any Wall Street firm), be sure you know well the person you are dealing with before you place your trust in him or her. You cannot simply assume they will be looking out for your best interests.
5 of 6 people found this review helpful
Would you consider the audio edition of Why I Left Goldman Sachs to be better than the print version?
Yes, because the author read it and his emotion came through.
What did you like best about this story?
The fascinating inside look at modern Wall Street.
What about Greg Smith’s performance did you like?
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
His mixed emotions at leaving work he had loved. Also, his experience of 9/11.
Any additional comments?
I think Mr. Smith has achieved his purpose of exposing how greed has overtaken Wall Street traders. It will be interesting to see if there are meaningful management and regulatory changes as a result.
8 of 11 people found this review helpful