Wednesday, 14 March 2012

PR Disaster at Goldman Sachs

Today a senior executive at Goldman Sachs has resigned and published a damning article in the New York Times explaining his reason; which is that he can no longer stand the culture of screwing the clients. According to him this is not the way it used to be and that the company grew with a culture of "teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and doing right by our clients"

But to see this article as a PR disaster is to miss the real point. This is merely the broadcasting of a long-running corporate governance disaster arising from an inappropriate culture - sometimes referred to as a toxic culture. The writing was on the wall when the financial crisis broke and it was publicised that Goldman Sachs was knowingly offloading poor quality investments on to its clients.

Why is this an issue of governance? Because "governance describes the systems, procedures and behaviours by which an organisation is directed and controlled". Because abusing one set of stakeholders - customers - also implies an attitude to integrity that must permeate the organisation and affect the behaviours of staff and management in other ways.

Three particular quotes from today's Telegraph article are must reads;

"... These days, the most common question I get from junior analysts about derivatives is, 'How much money did we make off the client?' It bothers me every time I hear it, because it is a clear reflection of what they are observing from their leaders about the way they should behave.

"Now project 10 years into the future: You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the junior analyst sitting quietly in the corner of the room hearing about 'muppets', 'ripping eyeballs out' and 'getting paid' doesn’t exactly turn into a model citizen."

 Mr Smith believes the decline in the firm’s moral fibre represents the single most serious threat to its long-run survival and see his article as a wake-up call to the board of directors. 

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