Seven former Goldman Sachs partners and managing directors, positions that are more senior than vice president, said in interviews that Smith shouldn’t be taken seriously because he was a junior employee and may have been disgruntled about his pay or career. All asked not to be identified because they didn’t want to risk ruining their relationship with the firm.
Still, six of the seven said they agreed with Smith’s criticism of how the firm has treated clients under Blankfein and Cohn’s management and that current members of the management committee would, too. Even so, they said they don’t expect the board of directors to take action or that anything will change because the firm has made money and outperformed most rivals.
“He may have aired a few comments that are true, but he’s placed himself on a pedestal,” said Jason Kennedy, CEO of the Kennedy Group, a London-based recruitment firm. “The reason he’s been at Goldman Sachs for 12 years is that he liked the name and probably liked the money.”
It’s rare for people on Wall Street, especially at Goldman Sachs, to speak out publicly against their employers or former employees, said Roy Smith, a former Goldman Sachs partner who’s now a finance professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business.
“Who’s going to hire someone who would do that?” he said. “The industry will close ranks on such things as whistle- blowing in this context.”
NYU’s Smith, who’s not related to the author of the op-ed, said Wall Street’s culture has changed because trading has become a more important source of revenue than the fees banks get from advising companies on takeovers or financing. Goldman Sachs generated 60 percent of its 2011 revenue from sales and trading.
The relationship with clients in the trading department differs from the investment bank, Smith said. Firms often are on the opposite side of a client’s trade, and can profit at the client’s expense. Still, it’s not as simple as the article describes, he said.
“It just doesn’t happen that it’s easy to make money by ripping off your clients or counterparties because they’re pretty smart people for the most part,” he said.
Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, the former chairman of bailed- out insurer American International Group Inc., said Goldman Sachs’s “change in culture” made the bank less responsive to clients.
“A trader has a short-term memory, and a short-term look at things, and that change really has changed the culture of Goldman Sachs,” Greenberg told Bloomberg Television’s Betty Liu today in an interview on the “In the Loop” program. “It is not the Goldman Sachs that represented companies as an investment banker.”
Greenberg’s former firm had a “contentious relationship” with Goldman Sachs, then-Federal Crisis Inquiry Commission Chairman Phil Angelides said in 2010. AIG sought to limit collateral demands in 2007 from Goldman Sachs, saying the bank was too aggressive marking down the value of the mortgage- related securities backed by the insurer through credit-default swaps.
Using rescue funds to cover AIG’s obligations on the contracts amounted to a “back-door bailout” of Goldman Sachs, Greenberg said.
Though some competitors relished Smith’s criticism of Goldman Sachs, which was the most profitable securities firm in Wall Street history before it converted to a bank in 2008, they may not be so different.
Smith’s opinion piece “seems to be symptomatic of many, if not most, of the banks around the world,” said Tom Kirchmaier, a fellow in the financial-markets group at the London School of Economics. “It might be that Goldman, as one of the most successful ones, is also one of the most extreme.”