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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.

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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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