Magazine

Goldman Sachs resignation: Muppet letter is everyone's fantasy

  • 15 March 2012
  • From the section Magazine
  • comments
Kermit in the city
Goldman Sachs staff allegedly referred to clients as muppets

Many of us have imagined writing a letter of resignation that shakes our bosses to the core, but few have actually done it, and rarely even then has the letter been read by millions. Greg Smith, who quit Goldman Sachs this week, has realised our fantasy.

The lyrics are as heartbreaking as they are prescient: "I look into these eyes, and I don't recognise, the one I see inside. It's time for me to decide - am I a man or am I a muppet?"

Walter sang these words in the recent Muppet Movie but equally he could have been singing the innermost thoughts of Greg Smith, the Goldman Sachs banker, who walked out in style this week with aresignation letter printed in the New York Times.

Among other things, he was upset with the way managers routinely referred to their clients as muppets. Greg obviously felt more of an affinity with the lovable puppets than the cruel investment bankers who had their hands inserted up their clients'... Aaanyway...

I don't know whether Greg Smith concluded he was "a muppet of a man" or a very manly muppet, but the manner of his departure was cinematic in itself.

Here's a test - read Greg's letter, close your eyes and imagine Tom Hanks uttering those words while the American national anthem plays in the background amid a montage of families of various races playing baseball in the park.

Don't the hairs rise on the back of your neck? In the next scene picture hundreds of high-flying investment bankers suddenly realising after 12 years of bonuses and sharp practice that now it's wrong. Rising up from their desks shouting: "Say it now and say it loud - I'm a muppet and I'm proud!"

Many of us have fantasised about our own valedictory salute. It takes different forms. For some, the salute is of the two-fingered variety.

For others, while we weren't planning to write a column in the New York Times, at the very least we imagine we would compose poignant, funny and thought-provoking email to GLOBAL.ALL.PERSONNEL.

We think about a particularly sexy colleague sitting tearfully at their PC, our voice playing in their head as they read. Then they grab a coat and head resolutely to the airport, where they are too late - our plane has taken off.

Elsewhere in the office, the chief executive reads it, gazing thoughtfully into the middle distance, wondering if the company has just made a BIG MISTAKE.

Meanwhile we're painting an old fishing boat on a Mexican beach with Morgan Freeman approaching in the distance. The villagers are grateful about something we've done for their water supply. I'm not sure what - I don't know anything about irrigation.

At a - as yet unspecified - later stage in the fantasy, a small plane shudders to a halt on the dusty landing strip. The executive - having shed his suit and dressed in blue shirt and chinos - comes out to offer a new deal. "Maybe I can learn something from you," he says. It turns out he always wanted to play the flute.

Even taking Morgan Freeman out of it, real life is rarely like that. The main reason being, if you've ever been in a company where someone has sent a stinker of an email on their departure day, you will see an entire office-full of people hunkering down and cringing at their desks.

"Braver man than me," they'll whisper. No matter how accurate the zingers of the dearly departed are, a goodly proportion of those who remain will shrug and possibly even feel a little defensive. Then after a while, like everyone who leaves a big company, they're forgotten.

Once the hoopla dies down, Goldman Sachs will move on and Greg Smith - no doubt after clinching a deal to write a book that will Blow The Lid Off What We Knew Anyway - will too.

As for me, I work for myself. So even contemplating an acerbic parting shot at my organisation would be an act of profound self-loathing.