When I posted Greg Smith’s, “Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs” from yesterday’s New York Times on my LinkedIn and asked if he was a disgruntled employee or hero, a very quick response came back from a colleague: “A Profile in Courage.” While I am not sure yet what to think, it is one of the most engaging PR stories to unfold this year.
What is also interesting about Mr. Smith’s letter of resignation is that he chose to bring this to the “The Gray Lady” of journalistic circles, what some might call one of the oldest, most traditional forms around of media, a newspaper. It was not initially posted on Facebook, or a blog, or tweeted, because, one would suppose, Mr. Smith thought it wouldn’t be noticed as quickly. No question, he was determined to make his point with all the noise he could muster. Interesting choice.
Of course, the PR storm reverberated globally and immediately went viral, spawning all kinds of humorous imitations including, “Why I am leaving the Empire,” by Darth Vader on The Daily Mash. It seems Darth Vader and Mr. Smith shared the sentiment as noted in the last sentence from Mr. Vader’s letter, “And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.” No wonder, author William Cohan said on Bloomberg TV that he thought Mr. Smith “is in the witness protection program right now.” And who doesn’t laugh and remember the memo that Jerry Maguire penned, “The Things We Think and Do Not Say?”
One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry when hearing the various names used by Wall Street: “Muppets”, or “pikers” (small fish), “marks” (easy prey), or “pawns” that have no backbone. Even the London Evening Standard chimed in its fantastic front page story:” Goldman Boss: We Call Our Clients Muppets.”
Today’s New York Times article by Julie Creswell makes the point that calling clients names is a past time that is alive and well in many other industries including advertising, with flight attendants, in the intelligence world, within the railroad industry and lastly, in the credit card industry. I think my favorite was “foamers”, for train enthusiasts that ride the rails and foam at the month while they go on and on about their passions for old trains.
While I am not sure I support his approach, I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Smith when he says, “Make the client the focal point of your business. Without clients, you will not make money. In fact, you will not exist.”
And I am very glad that I am not Goldman Sachs’ new PR chief Richard Siewert, who just arrived and is probably still trying to find his way around the building. Talk about crisis management – he is drinking from the fire hose.
Mr. Smith’s letter raises two key questions: Was he right to share his thoughts in The New York Times and is Goldman Sachs, and who knows how many other Wall Street firms, up to their old tricks? For me, I will take passion any day. The answer to the second question is far more troubling.