A week ago today, a man named Greg Smith resigned from Goldman Sachs. As a sort of exit interview, Smith explained his reasons for departing the firm in a New York Times Op-Ed entitled "Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs." The equity derivatives VP wrote that Goldman had "veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say I identify with what it stands for." Smith went on to note that whereas the Goldman of today is "just about making money," the Goldman he knew as a young pup "revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients." It was a culture that made him "love working for the firm" and its absence had stripped him of "pride and belief" he once held in the place.
While claiming that Goldman Sachs has become virtually unrecognizable from the institution founded by Marcus (Goldman) and Samuel (Sachs), which put clients ahead of its own interests, is hardly a new argument, there was something about Smith's words that gave readers a moment's pause. He was so deeply distraught over the differences between the Goldman of 2012 and the Goldman of 2000 (when he was hired) that suggested...more. That he'd seen things. Things that he couldn't forget. Things that had made an imprint on his soul. Things that he held up in his heart for how Goldman should be and things that made it all the more difficult to ignore when it failed to live up to that ideal. Things like this:
In December of 2000, Nick Paumgarten wrote a Talk of the Town story about Goldman breaking a rather unusual international record: the world’s largest hug. The company hug was initiated by Maynard Holt, a Goldman vice-president in the energy and power group, who e-mailed Guinness World Records, Ltd., expressing an interest in breaking the record at the firm’s annual investment-banking conference, which typically draws about three thousand Goldman employees from around the globe...The goal, Holt said, was to bring Goldman representatives together “in a way that says we’re still a small family.”(Around the same time, the massively popular “Big Hug” installments of the BBC children’s series “Teletubbies” were released.) Guinness agreed to the plan and even brought in its own official “hug-invigilator” to oversee the proceedings, which transpired as the second day of the Goldman conference drew to a close:
The investment bankers went to work. Four young ones, who had been ordered to put on Teletubby costumes, emerged from the wings and began roaming the tables, to put their colleagues in a huggable mood. Twenty others, “hug police” wearing construction helmets with head lamps, and T-shirts over their ties, fanned out with clipboards to round up recruits. Partner or peon, it didn’t matter. The big hug was for everyone. Those who signed up were given yellow stickers, which read “One Team, One Hug,” and were told to line up along the wall, where they began to form a circle around the ballroom. Gradually, the circle grew. Teletubbies stood arm in arm with men in suits. [Guinness spokeswoman Jerramy] Fine announced, “I can now certify that this will be the world’s largest hug, if you execute correctly.” On either side of the stage, Guinness’s official requirements for correct hug execution were displayed on giant screens: “At a given signal, each participant should squeeze the person on either side of them, holding the hug for a minimum of ten seconds.” Holt gave the signal. The huggers squeezed. The countdown began. At zero, the song “Lean on Me” came over the sound system, and the ring of eight hundred and ninety-nine bankers swayed and broke.
Obviously, this changes everything. Greg Smith is not the whiny, disgruntled, mediocre ping-pong playing "quitter" mouse that some of have made him out to be. He's a guy who, at a young, impressionable age, witnessed something that shaped his sense of the firm and his own identity. And when the former failed to live up, the disappointment was too much too bear. With his Op-Ed, he wasn't really flipping off Lloyd and Gary and the board and his former colleagues, he was crying out like a child who can't find the words to articulate what he really wants and needs. And I think we now all know what that is. A hug. And not some shitty little one-armed two-tap pat on the back hug but a serious, all-encompassing, maybe it'll cut off my circulation but I don't care because it feels so good type hug. One unmatched in intensity and size. One recognized on the international level. Know who else needs it? Goldman Sachs.
At this time, the bank will have to put up a lot more bodies than it did in 2000, as the Peruvian town of Ayacucho currently holds the largest group hug title with over 10,000 participants. Good. No- GREAT. That will make taking home the crown this time all the more satisfying and impressive. This time it won't just be investment bankers. This time the whole firm will be involved, all 30,000 employees, each of them inviting a client to join in. Appoint a Grand High Hug Master. Shut down the West Side Highway to fit everyone. Order first years to dress up as furries to "put colleagues in a huggable mood." Show the world that teamwork is alive and well at 200 West Street and that there is still much to be proud of. And at the center of it all, put Greg Smith. At the 10 second break, keep it going. Pull your neighbor closer and refuse to let go.
After, start making a point of highlighting the fact that there is no CEO on Wall Street who people would rather be hugged by than Lloyd Blankfein. Add "huggability" to interviews and 360 degree reviews. Promote employees who happily give more than they receive and without being prompted to do so; de-partner those who in summer months offer insensitive brush offs like "Too hot for hugs here" and get-away-from-me gestures. Conduct business in a way that would make Goldman and Sachs* and Smith burst with pride. Don't tell people what you "stand for." SHOW THEM. With two hands, two arms, and a soft kiss on the mouth if it's a client who you're worried might sue you over the CDO you sold them that blew up in their face.
Goldman Sachs Hugs It Out [New Yorker via Dealbook]
Peru Breaks Guinness World Record For Largest Group Hug [NTD]
Largest Group Hug [Guinness Community]
Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs [NYT]
Goldman loses bid to dismiss Hudson CDO lawsuit [Reuters]
*Who, back when Goldman truly cared about clients, would start each meeting by remarking "I want to hug the shit out of all of you," and really meaning it.