The Risks of a Public Resignation

Recently Twitter and various media outlets were abuzz about an op-ed that appeared in the New York Times. The article was essentially an open resignation letter written by Greg Smith, an Executive Director at Goldman Sachs. Smith described how, in his eyes, Goldman’s values had changed over his twelve year tenure to become more interested in making money than customer service.

The letter is drawing a wide variety of reactions. Some people are excited to see this “big, bad bank” take it on the chin in such a public manner. Others feel that Smith sounded whiney and self-righteous, particularly as somebody who benefited financially from this big bad bank in a significant way.

Whichever way one chooses to view the letter, what was interesting was how little was said in the letter itself. The full text can be seen here but none of the revelations seemed particularly shocking to even the most anti-corporation readers. The bank prioritizes profit and condescends to their customers.

There were no bombshells about illegal behavior or corruption at the highest levels but it did reveal a corporate culture that would be off-putting to many. In reality this letter could have probably been written by almost anybody who works for a large for-profit company so it raises the question, what did Smith gain from this action?

Certainly Smith’s potential future employers will be wary of somebody who has a proven record of airing his employer’s dirty laundry in a major newspaper. The lack of any real whistle-blowing in his letter also means that no company will look particularly noble for taking him on its staff.

At the same time, despite the lack of major revelations, Smith does provide something people can point to and say “look, even a guy who is making millions a year from these banks thinks they are going too far”. Smith shines a light on how destructive a bad corporate culture can be and in many ways makes a professional sacrifice to do so.

What do you think?
Was Smith noble or foolish?
What do his actions say about today’s corporate culture?

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