On Wednesday, Greg Smith shocked the world with his op-ed piece “Why I resigned from Goldman Sachs.”
“I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.”
Smith walked away from a $500,000 a year salary because he could no longer look new recruits in the eye and tell them Goldman Sachs was a good place to work.
While I freely admit my bias towards people named Greg who tell the truth, there is more to this story than name worship on my part. Greg Smith, for a while, was caught up in company worship, and now is an apostate, someone who in a very real way betrayed the culture he was a part of for twelve years. It’s not an easy thing to do, even if the culture is toxic.
Greg Smith was caught up in Corporate Idolatry, which means that he was overly devoted to the value system of his company. To take Smith at his word, he went to Goldman to do “what he thought was in the best interests of his clients, and considered it a noble calling to help protect their money.” What Smith discovered was a disconnect between the stated values of helping customers – click here to read Goldman’s written code of ethics – and the reality of the day-to-day culture. True values are revealed by actions, not the words that a company writes in a document.
But the real story is not whether Goldman Sachs has an ethical company culture. I have seen commentary on both sides. Smith is an idolbuster because he chose to no longer “worship” his corporate employer Goldman Sachs. Smith found his people-first values to be in conflict with the company values, and he decided to follow his conscience.
It is a story of courage, someone who reconnected with his core values and decided not only to leave a toxic situation, but also to expose it for the world to see. Greg Smith is very much a traitor in the eyes of Goldman Sachs and has to live with the scorn of his former colleagues.
In know, because in a minor way, I did something similar when I left the corporate world to be a stay-at-home dad. It wasn’t nearly as dramatic for me. My former company’s values did not lead to a global financial crisis. My issue was the mainly the callus way that employees were treated, and it was costing me too much personally to stay. But I didn’t burn my bridges like Smith did. I told everyone I was leaving because of my personal journey, and didn’t make an issue of my concerns about the values.
Some people I hardly knew came up to me and said they admired my courage for walking away. Other people I thought I was really close with with dropped off the face of the earth. To be honest, that part was painful. Greg Smith worked at Goldman Sachs for 12 years, since before he graduated from college. Anyone who thinks it is easy to walk away from that has never walked in those shoes.
Some in the media have dismissed Smith’s actions, asking why it took him so long to question the values of his company. To me, that question is irrelevant. One of the most popular parodies has Darth Vader resigning from the Empire because of a deteriorating culture. Interesting comparison. Darth Vader is the incarnation of evil. Except of course, that for most of the first trilogy, Darth Vader is Anakin Skywalker, a good guy who gets seduced into evil. And in Return of the Jedi, Darth Vader’s love for his son overcomes his loyalty to the empire, and he returns to good.
It is never too late to start putting people first. Good for you Greg Smith. I am sure the last few days were stressful, but I bet you slept better at night.