Customer Review

27 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The knowledge of good and evil, October 22, 2012
This review is from: Why I Left Goldman Sachs: A Wall Street Story (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. Where's their bailout?" This question planted the seed. Smith began to understand that big winnings at GS were due to its quasi-government status and not delivery of superior service to clients.

The former Goldman Sachs chief lobbyist, Mark Patterson had been brought in as chief of staff to Timothy Geithner at Treasury. GS's link to the welfare of its clients was gone. GS was in the DC power structure so realities on the ground had quietly shifted. Taxpayers made good dollar-for-dollar the enormous AIG bailout that went mainly to GS. The public would simply have to wait down the line for some kind of bailout, if it ever comes. And if it comes, John Q. Citizen might not immediately recognize it because trust was wiped out. That's what Smith seems to be trying to repair.

Smith's depiction of GS tracks with the Wall Street culture famously described in Liar's Poker, by Michael Lewis. Entry into the culture of Goldman was exactly like entry into Salomon Brothers per Lewis. Young candidates were treated almost as dismissively as military recruits in boot camp/basic training. You're ready to graduate from the training when you can verbally stand up to your tormentors without violating the culture rules. I was fascinated.

Smith's account lends support to some extent to Robert Kiyosaki's assertions that GS runs the government. Kiyosaki is author of Rich Dad Poor Dad. I got the impression that GS can get the rules changed in its favor. Clearly Smith's book gives GS partners something to worry about though. No client likes to be taken for a sucker. GS once had a stellar reputation, seems so long ago.

(Recommended reading: Declare Independence from Party Affiliation)
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Citizen John
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