Last week, Greg Smith, former executive director at Goldman Sachs, resigned from his job of 12 years with a scathing op-ed in The New York Times. Smith said he resigned because he believes the company has shifted its interests from its clients to itself over the last few years and he could no longer support such an organization. He mentioned how he “could no longer look students in the eye and tell them what a great place [Goldman Sachs] was to work” during recruiting sessions. Smith’s letter has incited public debate about Goldman Sachs and the corporate world, and it calls attention to the company’s methods of recruiting college students.
In his column, Smith deems the environment at Goldman Sachs “toxic and destructive,” asserts that the company disrespects its clients and only cares about making money.
He recalls a time when the company had a culture of integrity and teamwork, when he first joined the firm after graduating from Stanford University. Smith places the blame on Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein and President Gary Cohn for turning the company into a money-hungry corporation that refers to its clients as “muppets.”
Smith discusses Goldman Sachs’ recruiting at colleges, which he describes as a “grueling interview process” in which thousands of students may apply for jobs in a given year and fewer than 100 are hired. UT is one of many colleges where students undergo the challenging and exciting recruitment process, with many students from the McCombs School of Business and other schools vying for these prized spots at companies like Smith’s. Goldman Sachs is now defending itself against Smith’s derisive portrayal, arguing his is a minority opinion.
Yet, many students around the country are taking on views similar to Smith’s. Particularly because of the Occupy Wall Street movement, students at universities including Dartmouth, Harvard and Yale have published op-eds urging their peers to pursue professions outside of corporate America. This attitude is exemplified in projects like StopTheBrainDrain.org, a website whose mission statement is “Don’t let Wall Street buy our best and brightest.”
This “brain drain” refers to the concern that many students from elite universities end up working for investment banks despite entering school with vastly different career goals.
Chris Wiggins, an associate professor at Columbia University charged, “zero percent of people show up at the Ivy League saying they want to be an I-banker, but 25 and 30 percent leave thinking that it’s their calling. The banks have really perfected, over the last three decades, these large recruitment machines.” Many students who take part in the anti-Wall Street movement feel their classmates are wasting their potential at jobs like these.
While Goldman Sachs may prioritize earning revenue over other concerns, the company does engage in charitable enterprises, such as its $100-million initiative to teach business and management skills to 10,000 women in the developing world in 2008. This smart venture, which is one of Goldman Sachs’ biggest charitable donations, reminds those of us observing the corporate world from the outside that it might not be as evil as we believe.
Yet Smith’s contentious confession raises many concerns about investment banks and other similar organizations that students planning to enter the workforce should take into consideration. As the ins and outs of the corporate world are becoming more transparent thanks to whistleblowers such as Smith, students should research and evaluate all aspects of this career path before their final selection.
Contrary to Wiggins’ claims, some students may indeed view investment banking as their calling. Keeping claims like Smith’s in mind, these students should be wary of adept recruiters’ sales pitch techniques and independently determine the bank, company or profession that will keep them happy in the long run.
Waliany is a Plan II and government senior.