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Why I Left Goldman Sachs: A Wall Street Story Hardcover – October 22, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Goldman Sachs, the “Rolls Royce of investment banks,” has remained in business for more than 140 years, primarily due to a strict set of moral values that revolve around the principle that the “clients’ interests always come first.” These were the principles that were in place when Smith joined the firm as a junior analyst in the early 2000s. He describes entering an extremely competitive environment in which only the upper echelon of the best and the brightest survive, in which confidentiality, honesty, and integrity are fundamental to every business decision, and in which justice can be swift and brutal. A well-liked and promising study, Smith rose quickly through the ranks, witnessing firsthand the immediate effects of the tech bubble, the 9/11 attacks, and the housing meltdown. Through the turmoil, Goldman Sachs remained the one bellwether securities firm that could not be toppled, but inside the firm, the culture was changing. Rather than simply advising and trading for customers, Sachs began to resemble a hedge fund, doing proprietary trading and often taking positions opposite those they recommended to clients, a huge conflict of interest. Ultimately, the climate eroded so badly that only the largest commissions, known as “elephant trades,” became the driving force for everything the company aimed for, as clients’ interests fell completely by the wayside. This finally led to Smith’s famous March 14, 2012, op-ed for the New York Times, titled “Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs.” Despite Smith’s pointed criticism of Goldman Sachs, he is otherwise remarkably kind to the company. There is not much mud to sling, but what we find is a personal tale of one person caught up in a wave of greed, betrayal, and a complete disregard for the standards that had made Goldman Sachs the most trusted name on Wall Street. --David Siegfried


A portrait, in Proustian detail, of a world and a mentality that is utterly alien, and should be infuriating, to most of us on Main Street.

-- Mark Gongloff, Huffington Post

A personal tale of one person caught up in a wave of greed, betrayal, and a complete disregard for the standards that had made Goldman Sachs the most trusted name on Wall Street.

-- David Siegfried, Booklist

[Greg Smith] did what we would all hope that our own banker would do: he spoke out publicly about something that was wrong.

-- Hamilton Nolan, Gawker

An insider's take on Goldman Sachs strikes a provides a rare inside look into a career path to which many aspire: from nothing to Wall Street affluence. It will also be read because of its characterisation of Goldman's integrity. Where once it profited from helping clients prosper, the bank shifted, Mr Smith contends, into an entity that profited from clients.

-- The Economist

...Smith has written a field guide to the culture of Goldman Sachs and a fly-on-the-wall account of Wall Street on the skids.

--USA Today

The author's personal account of the many facets of daily life at Goldman Sachs gives his memoir the power of persuasion and conviction.

-- Kirkus

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 277 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; First Edition edition (October 22, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1455527475
  • ISBN-13: 978-1455527472
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (157 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #374,914 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Greg Smith resigned in the spring of 2012 as the head of Goldman Sachs's United States equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, Smith graduated from Stanford University and went to work for the firm full-time in 2001. He spent his first ten years in the New York headquarters before moving to London in 2011. He currently lives in New York City.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

51 of 56 people found the following review helpful By JK on October 30, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Well written and completely accurate portrayal of the excesses and improprieties of Wall Street culture. I can say firsthand from my own experience on the Goldman trading floor, Greg Smith must have really held back in this book. There are so many more outrageous stories and examples that could have gone into this book. But nonetheless, I don't think the book was meant to be an SEC complaint with specific indictments but a mere snapshot outline of what is wrong with Wall Street today, and Goldman Sachs in particular. The book reads easy, does a great job explaining some of the trader terminology, and is really best suited for those with little to no exposure to Wall Street who are looking for a "no B.S." account of what is plaguing the institutions behind our global financial system.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By epublisher on March 13, 2013
Format: Hardcover
First, the book should have been titled "My career at Goldman Sachs before and after the financial crisis" since the author's reason for leaving the firm occupies only the last quarter of the book. Too much of the book is spent on personal anecdotes on individuals, client stories and parties. If the purpose was to open GS to outsiders who care about the personalities of VPs, MPs, Associates etc., then the book is highly informative. I had hoped that the book would also offer an insider's view of the big "financial crisis" issues: such as:

* Why was Goldman operated as a hedge fund with leverage levels that made it vulnerable to collapse?

* Why does the firm still have a net derivative exposure 7 times its risk-based capital, the highest among all federally chartered banks and seven times greater than Morgan Stanley?

* Why was it OK for the taxpayers to cover Goldman's counterparty risk with AIG derivatives?

* If Goldman and others are operating a rigged casino to fatten up partner and associate bonuses (total 2012 GS salary, bonus and perks spending was reported to be $13 billion, or about $400,000 per employee), then should the government ban proprietary trading?

* Have the hundreds of trillions of dollars in derivative products peddled by Goldman and others merely set the stage for a worldwide financial system meltdown when the Central Banks cannot stop future runs on the counterparties and banks?

These and other issues related to conflicts of interest, sleazy ethics and non-fiduciary conduct are of greater importance for reforming the financial services industry.
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27 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Afia TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The book almost could be titled, "Why I Left Government." It's about a career in big finance. After years working with elite financial professionals, Greg Smith's values came in conflict with the business. Customers and the public get disrespected because we're often gullible when it comes to financial instruments.

Goldman Sachs (GS) had a storied and honorable tradition. Things changed during Smith's 12-year tenure. GS's corporate culture now reflects the corruption and cynicism of our society, only on a scale defying imagination.

Be warned that the author, in my view, is not a natural storyteller. It's easier to stay with a story when the characters are brought to life. My review is based on the audible version which is unabridged and narrated by the author. I always appreciate it when the author is the narrator. Smith's personal style is that he doesn't speak with a lot of passion.

Smith started as a competitive academic high-performer when he was 21-years old in 2000. He describes the selection process as if coaching college students to make the cut with big-name firms. Candidates get subjected to extreme pressure and embarrassment. Smith later learned GS did this to assess candidates for integrity, as it's tempting to make stuff up under pressure in an effort to save face. Despite the state of the stock market at the time with the dot-com crash under way, those were idealistic and innocent times compared to now. In some respects, Smith's book is sincerely flattering to GS.

I feel that Smith's turning point came when his best friend Lex asked one simple question. Lex was concerned about Congress passing TARP and bailing out Goldman Sachs along with other elite firms. Lex asked, "What about the other people whose 401Ks are getting decimated.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jumper on April 18, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Some reviewers have commented on the fact that this book does not provide any smoking guns or grand revelations - which is true - however I found it to be a smart and honest depiction of a day to day worker, chasing his dream and finding success only to become disgusted on how the business erodes his integrity. Anyone who has ever worked for a large corporation will identify with the hypocrisy of values and ethics preached to the grunt workers, while the top office makes decisions based solely on profit.
The book does not try to explain the complexities of financial instruments, but Smith does enough explaining to tell his story. A few reviews have complained that Smith is writing to trumpet his own success, but really it's necessary to understand his positive experiences, so that we can appreciate the enormous decision he makes to leave.

The book left me asking--was banking always corrupt, and he was just too young and naive to see it? Or is there something in our modern culture that has degraded standards and ethics, so that behavior once considered unacceptable and shameful is now tolerated for the sake of short-term profit?
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