Memo to former employees:
Don’t mess with Goldman Sachs

Goldman Sachs’ most famous opinion writer did what no Goldman employee is supposed to do: He talked, very publicly, about his experience at the firm.

Greg Smith’s March 14 New York Times op-ed “Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs,” generated 3 million page views within 24 hours. The issues he brought up about how business is done at Goldman hit a chord with the public.

Now he’s written a book “Why I Left Goldman Sachs.” I reviewed it for Bloomberg today, and you can read the review here.

I have criticisms of “Why I Left.” Smith walks us through his 12 years at Goldman but doesn’t reflect on the fact that he himself was seduced by the firm and its much hyped culture of integrity and “customer first.”

And he doesn’t look at the current problems of Goldman and its competitors with a sense of history. Fraud, scandals, and conflicts of interest on Wall Street should be addressed, as Smith says, but they are nothing new. “Why I Left,” though, is mostly limited to the dozen years Smith was at the company and the “toxic” culture he observed at the end. I wonder if he understood that Goldman may not have been all it was cracked up to be in the first place.

That said, he’s getting creamed with criticisms I don’t think he deserves. The book was all hype and didn’t disclose anything illegal, goes one argument. Well, the author said “I don’t know of any illegal behavior” in that op-ed seven months ago, so why did his critics expect otherwise? My favorite Greg Smith bash is the argument that goes something like this: “He asked Goldman for a million-dollar bonus that he didn’t deserve.” Are we really supposed to be shocked at the notion of someone on Wall Street wanting to get paid more than they deserve?

Considering Smith’s out of work, maybe Goldman will consider him for its next FT/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award, which gives five-figure payments to authors who sometimes even write about brokerage firms. Talk about a conflict of interest.

Goldman’s counterattack has been over-the-top. The firm shared excerpts from Smith’s self-evaluations with Bloomberg, as well as documents that showed he was denied a raise and a promotion.

Did you know that your bosses could hand out information from your HR files if you tick them off? I’ll bet that looming threat is adding a whole new understanding of the firm’s culture of “collaboration, teamwork and integrity” with the troops at Goldman.

The book could have been better. The issues Smith raised are important even if they are age-old Wall Street problems. And the message from Smith’s former employer is loud and clear: Don’t mess with Goldman Sachs.

Is there Justice for Goldman Sachs?

Do you remember that 11-hour Senate hearing where there were more scatological references than you could find in a Beavis and Butthead movie? “How much of that sh**ty deal did you sell?” asked Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who was running a hearing of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on investigations. “Should Goldman Sachs be trying to sell the sh**ty deal?

Levin was grilling a Goldman executive about the over-the-top emails Levin’s committee had collected that made very clear that insiders at Goldman — and other firms — were privately trashing the same securities they were selling to their customers. One gem the investigators had come across: A Goldman executive emailing a colleague “Boy that Timberwolf was one sh**ty deal.”

When all was said and done, Levin asked the Justice Department to look into whether Goldman had broken the law by misleading clients. Last Thursday, Justice said it wouldn’t be bringing a case.

In my column for CNN.com today, I raise the question that’s on a lot of people’s minds: Do big banks like Goldman get special treatment? Read article