Friday, 16 March 2012

A strategy for Greg Smith, he of Goldman Sachs fame

So Greg Smith has spilled the beans on Goldman Sachs.  In protest of what he calls a "toxic and destructive" environment, this former employee of Goldman quit a $4 million job.  In Smith's words: "It might sound surprising to a skeptical public, but culture was always a vital part of Goldman Sachs’s success. It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients."

Now Smith laments the inversion of these fundamental values.  He speaks of Goldman putting money before the interests of its clients. "How did we get here? The firm changed the way it thought about leadership. Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money for the firm (and are not currently an ax murderer) you will be promoted into a position of influence."

You can read the man's public resignation/lambasting here.  What I'm more interested in though is where to from here for Agent Smith?  He's highly qualified and apparently brilliant, but I doubt any of the major players will want to employ him again.  What if he finds the next company he goes to even more unethical than Goldman?  Will he speak out again?  That's the very question any potential future employer will ask.  Then there's the small issue of Goldman Sachs dropping $2 billion in market value overnight on the back of Smith's lambasting.  He may be brilliant, but no company will think he's $2 billion brilliant.  

I'm sure many smaller hedge fund companies that emphasize client ethics would be happy to employ him, but this would effectively be a drop down the ladder for Smith.  In short, I don't think being employed by anyone at all is a viable option for him.  At the end of it all though, I think he doesn't care about being employed or employable.  He would have thought about these consequences well before giving his resignation letter in.  

What move should he make now?

Start his own hedge fund or securities firm
Greg Smith is now famous for the right reasons and for the most part has people believing in his "moral fibre."  It takes a very upstanding person in my opinion to speak out against a company that employed and made you rich.  Having managed $1 trillion worth of assets for his clients at Goldman, he is probably very competent too.  These two ingredients - trust and competence - are enough to have people throw millions at Smith, entrusting him to manage and grow their money for them, should he open his doors for people to invest with him.  In today's age of financial scams and stories of Wall Street greed, a trustworthy guardian of your money is worth more than gold itself.  Depending on his specialty, Greg Smith is well placed to start his own hedge fund, investment firm or securities trading company.  

Write and give the occasional interview
This, as Seth Godin encouragingly points out, is the age where you pick yourself.  You can broadcast yourself (YouTube), publish yourself (Amazon) and express yourself (Blogger) to the world.  You don't need a big publication or media firm to get your message out.  Greg Smith however now has the added advantage of being a known name in the investment world, so people will actually seek him out before he reaches out to them (same reason celebrities garner such large followings on social media).  Smith may not be as popular as Kanye West or Vin Diesel, but he is known by the people that matter: those who read financial publications and those with money to invest.  

People will be itching to know what he has to say next.  You can be sure that there will be comprehensive media coverage as soon as he opens his mouth.  He should seize this initiative while he is fresh in the minds of people and start featuring as a guest columnist for a publication like The Washington Post.  A few video blogs on YouTube and talk show interviews would also see people in finance and investing circles watch and spread it to like-minded friends.  Of course, the purpose of all the writing, interviews and blogging would be to indirectly publicise the above-mentioned firm he creates.  The idea is for Greg Smith to become the face and brand of his firm, because his name - rather than his skills or staff - will be the main reason people invest in any company he may create.  

This operation needs to be done carefully though, lest it looks like overt self promotion.  He also runs the risk of leading people to think he orchestrated the whole resignation to broadcast his name and fuel his own interests if he starts writing and blogging.  However if the thoughts and posts he shares are insightful and useful to people, then it doesn't really matter - he will attract clients nonetheless.  

Did he plan the whole thing?
Who knows, maybe my suggestion has been his plan all along, we'll see.  One thing's for sure: he thought the whole thing through - his next move included - before closing his account with Goldman Sachs.  Now he's made headlines for the right reasons and is being widely lauded (and unavoidably ridiculed by a minority) for his move.  Perhaps this entire resignation was orchestrated.  If so he's not just clever, but cunning too.  

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