Today marks a Very Serious Literary Event: the release of Wall Street turncoat/general sad sack Greg Smith’s highly anticipated non-fiction debut, Why I Left Goldman Sachs.
Smith’s book expands upon an op-ed he wrote for The New York Times back in March in which he decried his former employer’s once-noble culture as “toxic and destructive” while claiming to be shocked at “how callously people talk about ripping their clients off”. The article’s best-known revelation was the fact that managers referred to their clients as “muppets”—and not in an endearing Fozzie Bear kind of way.
First the obvious: Most Americans don’t think too highly of Goldman Sachs right now, no matter what Mr. Smith says. When Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone referred to the company as a “great vampire squid”, he wasn’t just engaging in colorful hyperbole: According to the widely cited YouGov Brand Index, GS remains engaged in a bad-PR battle with JPMorgan Chase to determine which financial organization Americans hate most.
Politicians may have plenty of love for Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein, but the average “man on the street” feels differently. So how will the biggest name in investment banking deal with its most visible enemy? Until now, the organization has largely ignored Mr. Smith, but a curious internal memo reveals that this is no longer the case.
At the end of last week, GS sent each of its current employees—and many of its former employees—a note filled with talking points designed to counter the most significant charges in Why I Left. Beyond general statistics about the financial health of the Goldman Sachs organization and statements decrying Smith’s depiction of “a firm that is unrecognizable to us and directly opposite to the culture we work hard to foster”, the memo includes some basic strategies for undercutting the writer’s credibility:
- His accusations are “vague” and we find “no evidence to substantiate them”
- He was too much of a bottom-feeder to know what was really going on anyway
- Uh, we created our own Business Standards Committee way back in 2010 to tell us how to do stuff better, and we already implemented 35 of our own 39 recommendations, OK?
- We never heard the little bastard complain before!
Assuming everyone read the memo carefully: Will this extremely specific PR counter-attack work?
Smith will get several chances to tell his unflattering story over the next couple of weeks. But will that even matter? Based on early reviews of the book itself, Goldman Sachs may have gotten all worked up for nothing: James Stewart of The New York Times isn’t known as a Goldman apologist, and he writes that Smith’s memoir “fails to deliver concrete examples to back up his sweeping conclusions”. Stewart believes that “Mr. Smith’s book might even bolster Goldman’s reputation…if this is as bad as it gets…then he hasn’t made much of a case.”
Well, we’re already a little disappointed. At least the Goldman folks prepared for the worst, right?