Call me a cynic, but something rankles with me in this Greg Smith resignation furore. What’s unquestionable is that this man, formerly at the top of his profession (at least outwardly) has now rendered himself unemployable. The publication of his article and the resultant storm of comment combined in a perfect storm of PR disasters which led to the firm’s shares dropping by 3.4% yesterday.
We must ask two questions about his actions. The first: did he know? Is it conceivable that he thought, by printing an article in the New York Times, he would be hailed as courageous, his points would be intelligently and calmly digested and discussed, and then he could wander off to another firm more secure in its ‘culture’? Possibly, but there’s few who’d argue this point with any gusto. Choosing the NYT seems pretty calculated- its audience of switched-on liberals could be relied upon to raise the requisite moral uproar, and its much-touted online success near-guaranteed a significant reaction on twitter.
In that case, why did he do it? Did he genuinely believe that the firm simply needed to be called to account for selling out? Perhaps, and presumably this belief forms at least part of his motive. However, as Damien Reece points out, this is a man who managed to live with this supposedly toxic culture- apparently without complaint- for some years.
I’ve spent enough time around Wall Street and the City to know how many bankers want to be rockstars. Whatever former colleagues might say of ‘nice’ Mr Smith, always shying from the limelight, there’s no mistake that Smith will now be called upon as a commentator for all kinds of platforms. Even nice guys enjoy that, and he’ll also enjoy a public profile far beyond that he could have attained at Goldman even if he made CEO.
The message in the digital world- with which Smith is clearly au fait- is that celebrity is not only easily attainable, but has its own value. Our reality TV, 15 minutes culture has moved on even further of late: in a field defined by clicks and likes, just making a noise can feel like a tremendously valuable experience. Celebrity for the sake of celebrity is now on everyone’s agenda, not just the residents of the big brother house. We’ll never know the truth, but I’ll be keeping a close eye on this one…