America has finally learned just what it takes to wound the vanity of Goldman Sachs: attack its vaunted leadership culture.
For a surreal week or so in March, the financial world was abuzz with an anguished op-ed published in the New York Times by Greg Smith, a former Goldman executive director in London. Explaining his resignation from his derivatives desk, Smith catalogued how the firm’s traders casually deride their own clients, calling them “muppets” (i.e., stick-figure proxies fronting for the firm’s high-margin trades) and “elephants” (i.e., big game to be bagged for maximum returns). “It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off,” Smith announced. “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.”