Greg Smith, Goldman Sachs: Bombs away! 5 things to think about before torpedoing a career bridge

Posted April 16, 2012 in Career Management, Communication, Latest News & Insights

Former Goldman Sachs employee, Greg Smith, made waves last month when his open “resignation” letter was published in the New York Times.  Smith slammed Goldman for a variety of ills including treating clients like “muppets” and their “toxic and destructive environment”.  Career coaches and other pundits are saying Smith will never work in finance again.  That remains to be seen but it did get me wondering about the merits of publically torpedoing a career bridge.

Greg Smith reportedly earned $500k plus a year in his role at Goldman.  With that kind of annual salary, one has to think that he can sit pretty for a while until he finds his next full time gig.  But why the need for the public disclosure?  Many people leave jobs and don’t feel the need to broadcast their grievances to the world.

If you’re thinking about taking your exit public (afterall with social media, it takes seconds to go global), here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. You’d better be able to back up your claims… personally, I’m all for corporate whistleblowing.  It should happen a lot more often, but unfortunately, most of us are held by fear, so we keep our heads down, do the work and pray that we’ll land another job soon.  If you are going to go public, be ready with the facts and the concrete / bottomline impact on why the problems need to get addressed tout suite.
  2. Be prepared to be black listed… maybe Smith will never work in finance again.  Maybe he doesn’t want to.  Maybe he’ll start a vigilante investor activist group or maybe he’ll move to California and sell shell necklaces on the beach.  With any big risk career move you have to ask yourself if you’re prepared to live with the consequences… whatever they may be.
  3. Never say never… the flip side to the blacklist notion is that maybe some other firm with snap him up because they like what he’s standing for.  Sometimes being the “tall poppy” can work in your favour.  (But best to get comfortable with your personal “worst case scenario” idea before banking on that).
  4. Make sure this is the right strategy for you… I don’t know if Smith is planning to launch his own firm where his public stand would be an asset to potential clients, but hopefully this is part of some larger strategy that he’s thought through, which leads me to the final thought…
  5. Take a deep breath and count to 10… Greg Smith is 33 years old.  When I was 33 years old I was in the massive throws of a “mid career crisis”.  A colleague pointed out that “Christ came out at 33” and, since then, I’ve noticed most people seem to hit some kind of crazy career malaise that spins around the notion of “what the hell am I doing with my life? Is this all there is? What am I really going to be when I grow up?” etc.  This is where sounding boards like coaches, mentors or other advisors can really help you separate the irrational from the rational.

In my opinion, the risks of going public with your resignation outweigh the rewards if you want to continue on a career trajectory in your field unless: what your saying will prove true very soon and you will be propelled to superstar whistleblowing status; and/or you can back up your actions (and can show others what you did internally to try and make something positive happen; or, and perhaps most importantly of all…

If your actions can help others and taking a potential career hit is less important than being able to live with yourself, then maybe it’s worth it.  Only you can know what’s the right thing to do, but do seek some alternative perspectives before you launch your torpedoes.

Happy leading!


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One Comment

  1. Melodie says:

    Glain, I think Greg Smith knew exactly what he was doing and had covered all his bases before he pulled the trigger. I feel what he did took a lot of guts and had a lot of integrity, unlike the ‘whistle blower’ from RIM last year who told his/her story anonymously. Being true to yourself take guts.

    Smith would be a great catch for any company interested in building a kick ass corporate culture – I’d hire him as a culture consultant in a second. He might not be thinking that way, but it’s a credible alternative, given, maybe, he’s blown up his career bridge. We should all be so courageous.