Business bookshelf: 'Why I Left Goldman Sachs'

  • Updated: November 3, 2012 - 4:42 PM

WHY I LEFT GOLDMAN SACHS

Greg Smith,

Grand Central,

276 pages, $27.99

It's not easy being Goldman Sachs.

Senators grill you. Reporters compare you to blood-sucking ocean creatures. Ungrateful former employees trash you in the pages of the New York Times.

Now Greg Smith, Goldman's most famous opinion writer, has produced "Why I Left Goldman Sachs." It tells the story of his 12 years at the firm, from an internship in New York in 2000 to the roughly $500,000-a-year job as an executive director he walked away from in London.

Smith describes his journey with a Wall Street-caliber perspective. That is to say, he has none.

He makes points worth reading, but if you're looking for stunning insights into Wall Street machismo, this is not your book. To get something out of it, you'll need your own understanding of Wall Street's long history of conflicts, hype and fraud, which the author mostly skips.

Smith gets it right that Goldman, like its Wall Street brethren, is ridden with conflicts and flush with revenue from confusing and hidden fees. When he's promoted to a job in London, he observes that his British co-workers regard customers as quarry for the kill.

One colleague boasts that a clueless client didn't bother to check with competing brokers to see if a price was fair, so he overcharged the "Muppet" $1.5 million on a trade.

In April 2010, the day after top Goldman executives were publicly lambasted by a Senate panel investigating the firm, Smith had an unfortunately timed meeting with a big client in Asia. The customer wasted no time giving his opinion, Smith says.

Goldman wouldn't be losing his business because he still saw the benefit of doing some trades with an outfit that had so many smart people. Let there be no mistake about one thing, though, as Smith recalls.

"The truth is," the customer said, "we haven't trusted you guys for a long time."

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