Thursday, March 29, 2012

When Greed Overpowers Other Human Values

While Gordon Gecko fostered the notion "greed is good," when you get too much of a "good" thing, "good" can become "bad" and even destructive. Former Goldman Sachs executive director Greg Smith wrote a powerful editorial in the New York Times this month,which argues that our financial institutions, and Goldman Sachs, as an example, having fostered the growth of a "greed at all costs" culture, that ultimately eats everyone in its path. The greed monster, as Smith experienced it, eats not only its children, but also its customers, its opponents, and ultimately our humanity.

Smith puts forward that the accomplishments he is proudest of "have all come through hard work with no shortcuts." Yet, Goldman Sachs, and the world it is part of, is all about shortcuts, without focus on achievement, or even doing right by one's client.

Smith notes, "The firm changed the way it thought about leadership. Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example, and doing the right thing." But today, making boat loads of money has replaced those higher values, and "if you make enough money (and are not currently an ax murderer), you will be promoted to a position of influence."

To be focused on getting your clients to buy, sell or trade whatever will bring the greatest profit to Goldman Sachs is not in the client's higher interests and often are not in the client's interests at all. The client's success and satisfaction is not part of the Goldman Sachs "success equation."

Smith reflects, "It astounds me how little senior management gets a basic truth: If clients don't trust you they will eventually stop doing business with you. It doesn't matter how smart you are."

So, we have created a culture of master manipulators and salesmen, doggedly pursuing their narcissistic goals at the expense of the very people they once were in business to serve. And in the culture of no conscience, the fact that the practices that are being rewarded will ultimately sink the Titanic are not even reflected upon. "More, more, more. Me, me, me. Now!" is the corporate cheer.

In my eyes, this is the definition of hell on earth: people so absorbed with their own selfish interest that they destroy others without blinking, looking back, or in the worst case, even thinking about it. The financial services industry is riddled with a moral cancer that sadly is spreading to all of the commericial sector with metastases in government, health care, education and most all public institutions.

Our atom bomb is coming from within. And if we want life to continue without the proverbial mushroom cloud, we need to take action with our mind, hearts, voices and feet. Standing for interdependency. Making people aware that we don't live in a vacuum and there are consequences for our actions. Acknowledging if our actions harm others, this is not a good course of action. All of these steps are needed to transform our world to a more humane one for most if not all.

By taking a stand and speaking up in a public forum, Greg Smith has taken a very important step in confronting the monster. May more of us have courage to do the same. And may we band together to overthrow the dragon and restore respectability to the practice of business and commerce, where customer satisfaction and customer needs are restored to their proper place at the top of the food chain.

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