By William Cohan
Ever since March, when the New York Times decided to make a cause celebre out of the resignation of Greg Smith, a vice president at Goldman Sachs, a cottage industry of first-person Wall Street departure stories has sprung up across the print media and blogosphere.
For instance, the Guardian in London has run a series of 60 columns -- titled “Voices of Finance” -- that give current and former Wall Street bankers and traders a chance to anonymously describe what their jobs are really like or why they decided to leave. One London-based equity derivatives salesman, who had a job similar to Greg Smith’s but not at Goldman Sachs, wrote on the Guardian blog that doing the right thing on Wall Street is a directive that must come from the top.
'For me', he wrote, 'it goes back to the values in an organization. If you could sell your product for double the price, would you do it ? I would say, in business, that’s legitimate, provided your clients have adequate information'. He continued: 'This is an important rule with structured derivatives that clients ignore at their peril. You have got to read the small print. You need to bring in a lawyer who explains it to you before you buy these things - otherwise there is information asymmetry'.
These anonymous postings are valuable insomuch as they give a reader a healthy dose of the flavor of what it is like to work on Wall Street. But they can’t hold a candle to a full-throated, no-holds-barred repudiation of an industry that is expert at seducing the world’s best and brightest with promises of glamour and riches.
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William D. Cohan is the author of the recently released Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World and the New York Times bestsellers House of Cards and The Last Tycoons.
Cohan is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and writes frequently for Financial Times, Fortune, The Atlantic and The Washington Post. He worked on Wall Street as a senior mergers and acquisitions banker for 15 years. He also worked for two years at G.E. Capital. Cohan is a graduate of Duke University, Columbia University School of Journalism and Columbia University Graduate School of Business. The Last Tycoons won the 2007 Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award.