On Wednesday, I was in London for meetings with a professional services firm discussing their ethics program. On Thursday, I was in their Madrid office doing more of the same. Guess what everyone wanted to talk about in each location? The resignation shot that was heard around the world.
Former Goldman Sachs executive director, Greg Smith’s dropped a media bomb by writing a highly public resignation letter, published Tuesday by the New York Times as an Op-Ed piece entitled, “Why I am Leaving Goldman Sachs.” If you missed it, you should take a moment to read it.
This has to be – or will soon become – one of the most legendary corporate resignation letters in modern times. Even Martin Luther would be proud! The esteemed – but publicly beleaguered Goldman Sachs – received a broadside attack from resigning employee, Greg Smith, as he swung the door behind himself. Smith’s resignation letter is probably doing more public relations harm and rattling of shareholder and client confidence, than the now infamous 2010 Rolling Stone article that called Goldman Sachs “a great vampire squid.” Outside stone-throwers like Occupy Wall Street could never have hit their target as well as this insider’s resignation letter.
To be sure, Smith did this with intentionality and for maximum PR effect. And the New York Times was thrilled to be complicit in publicizing the attack. And Goldman’s new PR director was quick to help them craft an immediate response, which essentially sought to downplay Smith’s seniority (and by inference, his credibility), and portray his views as being out of step with the majority of other employee options.
All spin-doctoring aside – from Smith and Goldman Sachs – I’m extremely interested to know the truth… Was Smith the classic disgruntled employee with an axe to grind, akin to the selfishly motivated whistleblower, who spreads lies about a former employer? Or was he more or less accurate in describing a “toxic and destructive” culture of a once-legendary bank. If the former, I’m less interested, though I feel bad for Goldman Sachs and their unfairly maligned employees. But if the latter, I am extremely interested… How did this happen? How does leadership change it? What do you do if you’re one of the clients?
Assuming Smith told the truth (a BIG assumption!):
- is he to be commended for taking a stand, and for the manner in which he did it?
- or, is he to be commended for taking a stand, but should he have done it differently?
Assuming Smith exaggerated or even lied:
- how would you respond if you were Goldman?
- how should the NYT and other media respond?
What do you think? Please comment below…