On March 14, 2012, more than three million people read Greg Smith's bombshell op-ed in the New York Times titled Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs. The column immediately went viral, became a worldwide trending topic on Twitter, and drew passionate responses from former Fed chairman Paul Volcker, legendary General Electric CEO Jack Welch, and New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg. Mostly, though, it hit a nerve among the general public who question the role of Wall Street in society - and the callous "take-the-money-and-run" mentality that brought the world economy to its knees a few short years ago. Smith now picks up where his op-ed left off.
His story begins in the summer of 2000, when an idealistic 21-year-old arrives as an intern at Goldman Sachs and learns about the firm's Business Principle Number One: Our clients' interests always come first. This remains Smith's mantra as he rises from intern to analyst to sales trader, with clients controlling assets of more than a trillion dollars.
From the shenanigans of his summer internship during the technology bubble to Las Vegas hot tubs and the excesses of the real estate boom; from the career lifeline he received from an NFL Hall of Famer during the bear market to the day Warren Buffett came to save Goldman Sachs from extinction - Smith will take the reader on his personal journey through the firm, and bring us inside the world's most powerful bank.
Smith describes in page-turning detail how the most storied investment bank on Wall Street went from taking iconic companies like Ford, Sears, and Microsoft public to becoming a "vampire squid" that referred to its clients as "muppets" and paid the government a record half-billion dollars to settle SEC charges. He shows the evolution of Wall Street into an industry riddled with conflicts of interest and a profit-at-all-costs mentality: a perfectly rigged game at the expense of the economy and the society at large.
After conversations with nine Goldman Sachs partners over a twelve-month period proved fruitless, Smith came to believe that the only way the system would ever change was for an insider to finally speak out publicly. He walked away from his career and took matters into his own hands. This is his story.
©2012 Greg Smith (P)2012 Hachette Audio
Although often cited in the press as an “indictment” of Goldman Sachs, this book is not a mere diatribe against Goldman. It is just as much Greg Smith’s story of what he treasured about Goldman. He mentions many people he met at Goldman whom he greatly admired. He also notes with pride that Goldman was savvy enough to withstand the 2008 financial meltdown by being one of the few Wall Street firms with the good judgment to turn away from the alluring fool’s gold of subprime mortgage securities. He provides a very well written inside account of his 12-year career at Goldman, rising from intern through the ranks of the equities group as a well regarded trader and salesman.
What Greg Smith portrays is a firm that shifted priorities during his tenure from a place that went the extra mile for its clients (“advising my clients to do what I believe is right for them, even if it means less money for the firm,” as he put it in his NY Times op ed piece) to one that focused primarily on an employee’s “GC’s”—his or her “gross credits” based on net profits realized by the firm on its trades with those clients. The conflict of interest in such cases is obvious. He cites examples from his final year in the GS London office in which the focus on “profits” led certain Goldman employees to take advantage of their clients when it was clear the client had made a mistake or did not understand the essentials of a complex securities trade. To be fair, he cites only a few such examples and emphasizes in an “afterword” that no one should doubt there are thousands of honest and hard-working people who populate the Wall Street firms.
To some degree, what I believe Greg Smith experienced at Goldman reflected a trend we have seen over the past 20 years in other institutions once highly regarded for their professional standards but who have become much more “bottom line” oriented as they have adapted to more competitive business conditions and focused their resources on the most productive sectors of their business. Consider, as an extreme example, Arthur Andersen, once the gold standard of accounting firms, since disgraced in the Enron scandal. I personally witnessed this trend myself over 20-some years practicing in a so-called “Big Law” firm.
I think Greg Smith is absolutely right that for the sake of a professional firm’s culture, reputation and long-time survival, it has to get the balance between professional standards and business priorities right. In his opinion, GS had fallen below an acceptable professional standard by the time he left the firm. Others within Goldman will no doubt disagree with him in good faith. In any case, the book provides a couple of apt warnings. First, for those considering a career in a top Wall Street firm, be prepared for constant pressure to produce profits in a way that may run counter to the best interests of your clients, even if perfectly legal. You should decide whether you are up to handling that pressure and maintaining your personal ethical standards. Second, if you are doing business with Goldman Sachs (or any Wall Street firm), be sure you know well the person you are dealing with before you place your trust in him or her. You cannot simply assume they will be looking out for your best interests.
Judy Murray Jack
Yes, because the author read it and his emotion came through.
The fascinating inside look at modern Wall Street.
His mixed emotions at leaving work he had loved. Also, his experience of 9/11.
I think Mr. Smith has achieved his purpose of exposing how greed has overtaken Wall Street traders. It will be interesting to see if there are meaningful management and regulatory changes as a result.
avoiding road rage one book at a time...
I'll start with I love an accent and had zero trouble listening to this book. I'm always happier when a writer can narrate their own book, because it brings authenticity. I also appreciate when a writer is in over their head and calls in a pro. Not the case, Greg Smith can read his own book.
I really enjoyed this book initially. South African boy does good, wins scholarship to Stanford, procures Wall Street Internship and amazing career ensues. Greg gave enough insight and definition to his (complicated) work, so a novice could follow along and not get bored or overwhelmed with jargon. I felt like I learned things and even found myself making the hand gestures to buy and sell, like I was standing on 'the floor' (people driving by just thought I was nuts).
My problem is Greg comes across as a lily-white, do-gooder surrounded by blood-sucking heathens. It just doesn't feel genuine when you elevate yourself at the expense of others. He was the only good guy in a sea of scum... right (said sarcastically). He writes openly about his peer's weaknesses, his superior's faults and personality quirks even about hanging out with strippers in a hot tub in Vegas with his GS bretheren (whatever happened to what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas?). He burnt people to write this book all the while he is portraying himself as saint. He totally covered his own a## and made a premeditated exit from GS, while simultaneously ripping the rug out from the company that took VERY good care of him for 10 years. It feels kind of gross and disingenuous. I ended up not liking this guy.
Listen, I LOVE a juicy tell-all and I still respect people I've admired if I learned they've done something outside of my moral boundaries. I just think this guy saw an opportunity... that is it precisely... Greg Smith comes of as an opportunistic jerk and by the end of this book I stopped caring about what he had to say.
...and oddly tone-deaf, though with a little bit of useful inside info.
The Big Short does a much better job of matter-of-factly skewering GS, and we didn't have to hear about how much anybody's birthday dinner cost.
very insightful book for those who have never been involved with Goldman Sachs. I change my opinion about them.
No, I would not.
He could have learned some economics, and history in order to understand what were the real causes of financial crises in 2008, 1929, etc. and what is the reason why people on Wall Street behave in the way they do. The guy is completely clueless which actually very telling about what kind of business can possibly Goldman do with employees like him. You must understand the role of central bank in all of this, of artificially low interest rates, of bail outs by government if something goes wrong. These are the reasons behind the short term mentality of the Wall Street gamblers. You won't fix this with regulations. Greg understands none of this, he even cheers Hank Paulson for the bail outs.
No way. His voice and pronunciation (his pronunciation of the word "year" just tears my ears - it is probably just my personal dislike) make the listening even more tormenting.
Disappointment in the first place, but also happiness after I finished it.
I do love reading about Wall Street - especially during the crash of recent years. It is just fascinating to me to hear how great it all was, how high everyone was, and how everyone was so devastated when it fell. So few believed it could happen. Greg Smith tells his story, the rise from nothing, to greatness, to the great fall. His accent helps deal with the monotony of his voice. He really could have added more emotion into this, It is HIS story after all. But you can get through it. Still a good book. I would recommend it to those that like the Wall Street Fairy Tales that were...
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