It could well be the most destructive resignation letter of all time. Goldman Sachs executive Greg Smith, who managed more than $1 trillion during his time with the fabled Wall Street firm, has published a scathing attack on his employer in the New York Times, slamming a culture where clients were called “muppets” and profits were all that matter.
Smith, who was until today the head of the company’s United States equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said in his article that “the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money.
“I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.”
Smith laid the blame for the destruction of the firm’s once client-friendly culture at the feet of chief executive officer, Lloyd Blankfein, and the president, Gary Cohn.
“Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money for the firm (and are not currently an axe murderer) you will be promoted into a position of influence. “
Goldman Sachs has denied the claims in the letter, saying it will only be successful when its clients are.
But that hasn’t stopped a flood of fresh criticism against the bank and calls for its senior executives to step aside.
But there is also some broader context to Smith’s letter. It can be seen as a growing trend, particularly in the United States, for departing employees to attack the culture of the company they are leaving.
This can be through statements or letters published in media publications or on blogs, or it can be through statements that find their way into the media through other means.
Let’s have a look at five high-profile examples.
“Google was the rich kid who, after having discovered he wasn’t invited to the party, built his own party in retaliation”
It’s been quite the week for scathing attacks by former employees. Earlier this week, former Google executive James Whittaker, who joined from Microsoft in 2009 and recently returned there, slammed the search giant for losing its entrepreneurial focus and becoming obsessed with competing with Facebook.
“The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate. The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus,” he wrote on his personal blog this week.
“As the trappings of entrepreneurship were dismantled, derisive talk of the ‘old Google’ and its feeble attempts at competing with Facebook surfaced to justify a ‘new Google’ that promised ‘more wood behind fewer arrows.’”
Whittaker also slammed Google+ as a failed attempt to enter a market it didn’t need to.
“Google was the rich kid who, after having discovered he wasn’t invited to the party, built his own party in retaliation.
“The fact that no one came to Google’s party became the elephant in the room.”
“My experience at Whole Foods was like an increasingly sped up fall down a really long hill. That got rockier with every metre”
In the middle of last year a letter written by an employee of US organic grocer Whole Foods went viral. At the heart of the employee’s complaints was what he saw as the company’s failure to live up to its green corporate values.
In a scathing 2,343-word resignation letter, he slammed processes including allegedly throwing out food that could have gone to homeless people, poor recycling practices and energy wastage.
“My experience at Whole Foods was like an increasingly sped up fall down a really long hill. That got rockier with every metre. And eventually, just really spiky… With fire, acid and Nickelback music.
“I was hired about five or six years ago. I appreciated and respected what the company said its philosophies were at that time. The ‘core values’ essentially. However, it didn’t take long to realize what complete and utter bullshit they are.”
“To them I say, with as much gusto as I can muster in an email, f-ck you”
Now, I am sure many of you wouldn’t think a journalist was capable of an angry resignation letter, but you might be surprised.
A few years ago when former LA Times car writer Dan Neil left for the Wall Street Journal, he penned a mainly lovely letter to his former colleagues, saying there was “not a person in this building I do not like, if not love”.
But his letter went viral for one particularly scathing paragraph aimed at the company’s owners, Tribune Co.
“It’s been a rough few years here, mainly because of the jackasses in Chicago who own us. To them I say, with as much gusto as I can muster in an email, f*ck you.”
Simple, but rather effective.
“Almost every project is falling further and further behind schedule at a time when we absolutely must deliver great, solid products on time”
BlackBerry maker Research In Motion has been struggling to keep pace with Apple for years, something that was perfectly underlined by a leaked resignation letter from a disgruntled employee.
The long letter looked at everything from hiring to accountability to product design and development, and urged RIM to pick up its game.
“Teams still aren’t talking together properly, no one is making or can make critical decisions, all the while everyone is working crazy hours and still far behind. We are demotivated. Just look at who our major competitors are: Apple, Google & Microsoft.”
The un-named employee also slammed the company’s closed culture.
“You have many smart employees, many that have great ideas for the future, but unfortunately the culture at RIM does not allow us to speak openly without having to worry about the career-limiting effects.”
“Never f-ck with your systems administrator. Why? Because they know what you do with all that free time!”
Let’s finish with a letter that has done the rounds so often that it’s hard to know if it’s genuine or not. But it is very funny.
The letter purports to be from an IT network administrator, who slams his boss as not having “intellect that ranges above the common ground squirrel.
“You will never understand computers. Something as incredibly simple as binary still gives you too many options.”
The departing worker then makes what seems to be an extraordinary request for a glowing reference – and provides a very good reason for giving it.
“I have all the passwords to every account on the system, and I know every password you have used for the last five years. If you decide to get cute, I am going to publish your “favorites list”, which I conveniently saved when you made me “back up” your useless files.
“I do believe that terms like ‘Lolita’ are not usually viewed favorably by the company.”