The Muppet Show at Goldman Sachs

It seems like Goldman executives routinely refer to their clients as "muppets." That's an insult to Big Bird.

Today Greg Smith resigned from Goldman Sachs and posted this op-ed in The New York Times. Smith said that people at Goldman were obsessed with profits, and they routinely ignored the best interests of clients. In his own words: "It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off."

What's the Big Deal?

Allegations about selfishness at Goldman have become almost routine over the last two years. But one word in the article stood out, and has set the blogosphere on fire: "Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as 'muppets.'"

That's right: muppets. 

You can't make this up, right? There is something so ordinary and so comical about that word that it has the ring of truth. Greg Smith didn't come up with that on his own–it sounds exactly like the type of slang that naturally develops out of corporate culture. Just ask Dilbert.

Granted, the SEC won't be throwing anyone in jail for calling someone a "muppet." Maybe Jim Henson's estate will object. Maybe they'll decide that Goldman has slandered the marionettes on "Sesame Street." But you don't go to jail for that.

No. What's more likely is that Goldman will lose whatever shred of dignity it once had as a firm. Goldman will become the butt of jokes–the mocker becomes the mocked.

Maybe that's the best outcome. After all, Greg Smith didn't accuse anyone at Goldman of illegal activity. He just said that people put their own interests above client interests. They broke the spirit of the law, but not the letter of the law.

As for me, I've found new respect for the muppets. 

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Laura Madsen March 14, 2012 at 08:22 PM
"Mah Nà Mah Nà" - doot, dooo, doo, doo, doo...... :) <--song from the latest Muppets movie. I couldn't resist!
Robert J. Martorana, CFA March 14, 2012 at 09:09 PM
Sounds good from here. : )
Thomas Auzinger March 15, 2012 at 11:42 AM
With one exception I always worked for companies that tried to make their customers happy. We charged them as much as we could for it and they knew it, but it was always was win-win. The exception was a dot com start up who considered customers little more than stepping stones on the way to an IPO or getting bought. We all know how the dot com bubble ended. A lot of bad apples took a good number of good companies down with them. If what Smith describes is pervasive throughout the industry we might just be looking at a second melt down of financial companies. And maybe this time it's a healthy thing.


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