Yes, the letter is about as self-indulgent as you’d expect a resignation letter from a banking executive to be.”
For once, we have a Goldman Sachs resignation letter from someone who isn’t an overworked first-year analyst. Circulating the interwebs today is this NY Times’ op-ed piece from Greg Smith, a (now former) executive director for the storied investment bank. In it, he details why Goldman has become a horrible place to work. Shocking revelation: Goldman Sach’s culture is one big greedy get-rich-quick scheme (allegedly).
Yes, the letter is about as self-indulgent as you’d expect a resignation letter from a banking executive to be (though his parents are undoubtedly happy he made the world aware that they raised the world’s third-best Jewish table tennis player), and there’s no denying the hubris of using the NY Times as a resignation vehicle. But looking past that, this is not your typical “I was meant for better things” resignation letter. In fact, this letter contains several lessons that apply to pretty much every man in the workforce, be they bankers or bartenders.
I think this is the way most all of us dream of leaving a job we hate. Enraged, accusatory rants only make the employee seem disgruntled and incompetent, and boilerplate “I’ll always cherish the work I’ve done here” messages are ultimately transparent clichés. No, you want to tell your bosses to f*ck off in the most dignified, articulate manner. He stumbled a bit by shoehorning his resume into the body of the piece, but otherwise, nice work. Everyone should save this letter as a template for when they decide to leave a company they hate. He states his feelings and supports them with examples of the way things should be. His superiors may be free to disagree with his beliefs, but there’s no arguing with manner in which he presents them.
On a deeper level, Smith reveals a lot about the modern workplace and how easy it is to become complacent, even as the world crumbles around you. Smith and others sharing his views were and are afraid to speak out against Goldman’s declining culture, leading to the (predicted) demise of the firm but, tangentially, mirroring the deterioration of the U.S. economy as well. Every successful company, regardless of how lawless or derelict it may seem today, was founded on values that aligned with the best interests of its customers. If you speak out loudly enough about those values (even if it’s as you make your exit), the right people will eventually notice. In a memo released today, Goldman’s top brass mentioned an internal survey that reinforced the firm’s customer-focused culture. While the results of this company document would appear to contradict Smith’s perspective, companies typically don’t conduct those sorts of internal surveys unless they believe they have a problem.
The op-ed also brings to mind the concept of integrity, which isn’t something a lot of people think about when it comes to work. Sure, you might serve your clients, but in practice it’s more like “servicing” them (my parents will be so proud to see that I worked a sex joke into a career article). While Goldman’s size and influence magnifies and simplifies the implications of poor customer focus, it’s not limited to global investment banks. While companies pay us to do a job, consumers pay those companies for goods and services. When those goods or services suffer, the consumer will go elsewhere because in this day and age, there are few if any industries completely free of competition. When that happens, the quality of the work you do matters little, because eventually there won’t be a company to do that work for. There is a direct correlation between one’s integrity as a worker and the long-term health and integrity of one’s firm.
Finally, there’s one message that should resonate loud and clear with every person reading this: Don’t be afraid to leave a job you hate. No matter what kind of Kool-Aid the company tries to pour down your throat, no place is unique. If you don’t like the way your company does business, you can almost always find another one in the same industry. Remember, despite the way things appear, people are the commodities and resources, not jobs. If you’re a genuinely good employee and can articulate that, someone somewhere is ready and willing to lure you away from a job you no longer believe in. Sure, it helps if you have the kind of financial safety net Greg Smith probably does, but all men, be they new college recruits or 20-year veterans, should have their resume at the ready should the right opportunity come knocking.
If nothing else, Greg Smith will have plenty of time to work on his Ping-Pong skills.