Goldman Sachs 'tell-all' tells little

Oct 21, 2012 @ 12:01 am

After reading the opening chapter of Greg Smith's Wall Street tell-all, “Why I Left Goldman Sachs,” it is clear that Mr. Smith has an ax to grind — and a pretty dull one at that.

How else to explain his reaching account of intern hell at The Goldman Sachs Group Inc., where he and his fellow interns were forced to get by in New York on — gasp — $5,000 a summer? If that weren't humiliating enough, some Goldman interns even had to — warning: Reader discretion is advised — fetch food for their bosses.

In case you forgot, Mr. Smith got his 15 minutes of fame in March when he quit his job at Goldman in a New York Times Op-Ed in which he characterized the firm's culture as “toxic and destructive.” In that piece, Mr. Smith, who had worked at Goldman for 12 years and risen to the level of executive director, said that he no longer could work for a firm that put profits ahead of clients.

Apparently, a few days' worth of headlines and millions of page views wasn't enough for him. Mr. Smith has turned his career-ending opinion piece into a book — one that may very well pave the way for a whole new genre in book publishing: White Shoe Horror.

“Why I Left Goldman Sachs” (Grand Central Publishing, 2012) goes on sale today, but the first chapter was available free of charge last week on Apple's iTunes bookstore.

Judging by that chapter, this isn't a book that should be read alone — or without caffeine, for that matter.

In it, Mr. Smith vividly describes Open Meetings, which served as a kind of “boot camp” for him and the 75 other interns with him at the firm in the summer of 2000 — only without the hard physical exercise, the marching songs and the point.

During these meetings, “angry” Goldman vice presidents grilled interns on everything from the firm's history to investment strategy to knowledge of the markets. Those who showed up late were excluded from the meeting.

YELLING AND TEARS

And those who flubbed their answers got — there is no easy way to say this — yelled at.

“The biggest mistake you could make at an Open Meeting was to fluff an answer and then try to wing it,” Mr. Smith writes. “The people who did that were often the people who ended up crying.”

Is there anything worse than making an Ivy League intern cry?

That isn't all. Interns at Goldman also were expected to carry their own seats around the trading floor.

And sometimes they even had to make breakfast and lunch runs for the people on the trading desk to whom they were assigned that day.

“You would literally take a pen and a pad, and go around to the 10 or 15 people on the desk and take everyone's order,” Mr. Smith writes.

It is almost unreadable.

In one bone-chilling passage, Mr. Smith recalls a time when a particularly mean managing director actually tossed his own lunch into the trash when an intern came back with a salad instead of the sandwich that he had ordered.

Talk about man's inhumanity to man.

When all is said and done, Mr. Smith's book is unlikely to register in Goldman's storied 143-year history. That is especially true now that Goldman has just released the results of an internal investigation that depict Mr. Smith as an underperforming employee who demanded — and was denied — a $500,000 raise just months before he quit.

Now he looks more like a disgruntled employee than one whose high moral values got the best of him.

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