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Greg Smith to Goldman Sachs: A new era in Wall Street ethics

Greg Smith belongs to younger generations that put loyalty to values above loyalty to company. As young professionals ourselves, we believe his op-ed resignation from Goldman Sachs last week may well forecast a new era in ethics on Wall Street and in other workplaces.

Traders work in the Goldman Sachs booth on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange March 15. Greg Smith, an executive director at Goldman Sachs, resigned with a blistering public essay that accused the bank of losing its "moral fiber," putting profits ahead of customers' interests, and dismissing customers as "muppets."

Richard Drew/AP

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Greg Smith has been called many things – flattering and not – since publicly resigning from the storied firm of Goldman Sachs last Wednesday via an op-ed in The New York Times. He has been hailed as a “hero” and a “whistleblower” by some, while called “self-righteous” and deemed a “traitor” by others.

Mr. Smith, in a sense, has become a Rorschach test for our times. We see in him what we value or disdain – depending on our perspective, and perhaps reinforced by generational attitudes.

Those who celebrate Smith’s courage to speak truth to power in such a public forum prize audacity and an uncompromising commitment to ethics – especially on Wall Street. Six months ago, the Occupy Movement became a home for this ethos – people of all ages, but especially the young, speaking out, taking up space, and legitimizing a new conversation about inequality and accountability.

Others value loyalty, seeing Smith as a reckless attention-seeker and believing that honorable workers don’t air an employer’s dirty laundry as a matter of principle. Violating that principle can be costly: Goldman stock dropped $2.15 billion on the day of Smith’s public resignation, which, according to The Atlantic magazine, means his op-ed cost the firm a staggering $1.7 million per word. (The company has since recovered much, but not all, of that loss.)


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