Greg Smith’s “Why I Left Goldman Sachs” (I’m Kind of a Big Deal)

The new Goldman Sachs headquarters. Picture courtesy of Flickr user edenpictures.

The new Goldman Sachs headquarters. Picture courtesy of Flickr user edenpictures.

by Matt Waller

On March 14 of last year, the New York Times published Greg Smith’s op-ed “Why I am Leaving Goldman Sachs,” and it immediately made waves on and off Wall Street. Not long after, Smith cashed in on a book deal, and the 243-page Why I Left Goldman Sachs was published at the end of October (just in time for the holiday shopping season). I had read the op-ed and received the book as an early Christmas gift. I figured it’d be an interesting read – I know plenty of people who work in the industry, and investment banking is something that I had vaguely considered in high school and early in my college years.

I’m not going to debate the overall merits of the book. Most agree (see this review and this review) that it was a cash grab by Smith and doesn’t offer many profound insights. For me, it was presented a useful picture of what investment banking actually is; Smith offers some good descriptions of the trading and banking operations at Goldman Sachs, how investment banks make money, and so on. It’s kind of like a less self-aware, less self-deprecating version of Michael Lewis’s Liar’s Poker—although in Smith’s defense, Lewis set the bar pretty high. But again, the purpose of this post isn’t to debate the book’s merits as a text, but rather to advance a theory that I developed early in the book, and which only grew stronger as Smith continued to drop strange (and often completely irrelevant) little anecdotes throughout the book: perhaps the real reason Smith wrote this book (other than to get richer) was to awkwardly (and completely unironically) try to pick up chicks.

The book is littered with offhand comments that offer little useful information to the reader and that come off more like weird pickup lines, delivered through the slight slur of a guy at a bar with no self-awareness and with no hint of shame. Smith makes clear that he’s single, he’s rich, he never makes mistakes, and the list goes on. As these add up, the book ends up reading like a thinly-veiled, and very strange eHarmony profile, offering weird little humblebrags that turn out not at all impressive.

That he’s rich is obvious. What follows is a summary of the other highlights of Smith’s dating profile as presented in his book. Behold:

  • Greg Smith kicks ass at ping pong. Fairly early in the book, Smith recounts a tale about being recruited to play in a corporate ping pong tournament against a hot shot client. The ultimate moral of the story (and Goldman Sachs pingpongyes, there are definitely ham-fisted morals in all of Smith’s stories) is that Smith let the client (an inferior ping pong player) win so that Smith could selflessly embody the first of Goldman’s business principles: put the client first. What could easily be a two-sentence introduction to the anecdote stretches on for four long paragraphs. Smith triumphantly concludes (ladies, are you listening?):

I’m not trying to brag. But competitive table tennis, like every sport, has its levels…the Putnam portfolio manager (let’s call him PPM) and I were simply not in the same league…I was confident he wouldn’t be able to return my serve, and if it came to a rally, he wouldn’t be prepared for the kind of severe spins I could put on the ball…I could have beaten the guy in my sleep.

    So there you have it. The dude puts severe spins on ping pong balls and could’ve owned this guy, but he selflessly put the company first and lost. We’re off to a good start. Onward.

  • Greg Smith is a suave DJ with exquisite musical taste. Not only can Smith put severe spin on plastic balls, but he can also put severe spin on the records. Take this example where he steps up at a party and takes over as DJ:Goldman Sachs record

I was the only one there who had my iPod, so I stepped into the breach as amateur DJ for the night. I took song requests from some of the partners, but mostly I played the music I liked. Nelly’s “Ride Wit’ Me,” Jay-Z and Linkin Park’s “Numb/Encore,” and U2’s “Beautiful Day” were some of the tunes people enjoyed that night.

“Ride Wit’ Me”? Of COURSE they enjoyed it, Greg! In Smith’s defense, this party took place sometime in or around 2005, so these songs may or may not have been popular, but still, how is this at all relevant to the book? We get it, you stepped up and plugged your iPod in, and the next day your boss thanked you. This is a book about Wall Street — unless this is 1966 and you’re blowing your friends’ minds by introducing them to Revolver, I don’t want to read about the music you played at a party.

  • Greg Smith is ABSOLUTELY not afraid of boobs. So check this out. Greg Smith was once in a hot tub with a topless woman, and he was not scared:

I was sitting in a hot tub in Vegas with three Goldman VPs, a managing director, a pre-IPO partner, and a topless woman…Sipping an ice-cold Red Stripe took the edge off, but my brain was buzzing anyway, with social/corporate/ethical discomfort. It had nothing to do with the topless girl: that part I was loving.

Well, thank you, Greg. I don’t even know where to begin trying to figure out the rationale for Smith including this detail. Is it to prove that he is in fact heterosexual? Is it to show that, “Damn right, there should be a topless woman in a hot tub with men like me.” Who knows? But, ladies, if your breasts are “let us say, unnaturally buoyant” (Smith’s words), then Greg Smith might just be interested. Your breasts could perhaps one day be the thing that Greg Smith is loving.

Go home, Greg Smith. You’re drunk.

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