Wednesday, March 14, 2012

If you want to work in Finance

The blogosphere is abuzz about the Goldman Sachs employee who resigned after watching the company's culture descend into sheer profiteering and becoming "toxic and destructive" -- and who penned an op-ed in The New York Times about this decision.

Some choice quotes:

The firm has veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for... I truly believe that this decline in the firm’s moral fiber represents the single most serious threat to its long-run survival...

I have always taken a lot of pride in advising my clients to do what I believe is right for them, even if it means less money for the firm. This view is becoming increasingly unpopular at Goldman Sachs. Another sign that it was time to leave. How did we get here? The firm changed the way it thought about leadership. Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money for the firm (and are not currently an ax murderer) you will be promoted into a position of influence...

Today, many of these leaders display a Goldman Sachs culture quotient of exactly zero percent. I attend derivatives sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients. It’s purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them... It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as “muppets,” sometimes over internal e-mail.

I hope this can be a wake-up call to the board of directors. Make the client the focal point of your business again. Without clients you will not make money. In fact, you will not exist. Weed out the morally bankrupt people, no matter how much money they make for the firm. And get the culture right again, so people want to work here for the right reasons. People who care only about making money will not sustain this firm — or the trust of its clients — for very much longer.

This article should be translated into Chinese and disseminated as widely as possible. (I've already posted a link on Renren). It's not just a Goldman Sachs problem, though that company had certainly crystallized the issue. It's a whole-culture problem if screwing others in the pursuit of wealth is seen as the loftiest and worthiest goal, and perfectly justified.

If Goldman really isn't the way it's portrayed, and its employees are all upright corporate citizens, then the company's leaders should laud and celebrate every principle raised in this piece. The only thing they could claim is that they agree completely with all his ideas, but the op-ed is inaccurate because GS already lives up to those ideals.

And well, if the company doesn't actual reflect those principles, and the executives end up covering themselves by attacking this guy -- then at least all those Goldman employees will be jolted into a moment of clarity. They will have to take a hard look in the mirror and ask what kind of company they work for. (Also see reaction from former employees.)

It's a thorny problem, and I'm actually rather glad it got tossed in Goldman Sachs' lap. Either they'll be forced to live up to these standards and affirm (or reaffirm) internally what believe in and let employees judge for themselves -- or they can just admit that they don't believe in such principles and simply put profits first, in which case smart employees and savvy clients will want to GTF out of there.

UPDATE  (3-15-2012)
My friend Patrick, who previously spent time at J.P. Morgan and also observes China, posted this:

"China in itself is like Goldman Sachs. The business culture there is as corrupt, if not more so, than Goldman's. The only thing that's good about it is that China is openly corrupt while Goldman hides their shitty deals as 'Abacus CDOs.'" LOL.

No comments: