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Does Goldman Need a Chief Emotion Officer?

Emily Sackett  Follow

Talk about a bad first day on the job. Only several hours after the New York Times announced the hire of new Goldman Sachs head flack, the same publication printed an op-ed from disenchanted Greg Smith, former executive director and head of the U.S. equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. In his one-two shot on the Wall Street giant, Smith reduces the motivations of the Bank to money grubbery and paints the demise of a once superior culture he is no longer proud of. Looks like van Praag escaped just in time, this is definitely any corporate PR pro’s worst nightmare. On the other hand, for my colleagues here at CJP, many of our clients and any of our readers who share the mission of maintaining reputation and creating value for stakeholders in big brands, the unwinding of the situation is certainly one to keep close tabs on and lob into the category of “lessons learned”.

Since the news broke yesterday morning, both traditional and social media outlets have exploded with chatter of the now viral resignation letter and what has been a much anticipated response from the bulge bank. Smith, who resides in London, has incited a cross-continental ripple of buzz – tweets, posts, and spoofs alike such as the thedailymash’s article “Why I am leaving the Empire, by Darth Vader” and U.S. humorist, Andy Borowitz’s,  fabled letter to clients from the Bank’s chairman (as reported by BrandChannel). The Wall Street Journal (most likely grieving over the scoop by hometown press rival) yesterday afternoon posted a letter to their employees  from Goldman’s Blankfein and Cohn, regarding the “disgruntled” employee’s spectacular exit.

Many of my close friends who work at banks have also received letters from chairmen and executives explaining why they are not like Goldman or reminding employees to remain appropriate when handling company affairs and their public profiles. In a day and age of endless communications channels and an ever vanishing line between personal and private information, the Smith/Goldman fallout (especially in the wake of Occupy Wall Street-like demonstrations all over the globe) is not completely shocking. Hopefully, it reminds financial institutions of all shapes and sizes, the prominent and the unknown, that when you are in an industry that has such a direct influence on the economy and therefore people’s lives, it is essential you remain cognizant of emotions, especially in uncertain times.

Whether the accusations made by Smith are true or not, it’s hard to believe his passionate disagreement with the firm’s operations and values went unnoticed by some. At such a high level too (and in over a decade of employment), you would have to imagine he had flagged his concerns to either close friends or higher ups before totally going off the deep end and publishing his resignation in one of the worlds most closely read newspapers. Which brings me to the question, did Goldman pour gasoline on a flame by ignoring an employee’s (and an influential one at that) gripes or – and I don’t know Mr. Smith personally – did they value his skills and reputation over a hothead personality? In their letter to employees, Goldman’s Blankfein and Cohn say it themselves: in a company of more than 30,000 people (and in Smith’s words, some of whom have “clients [with] a total asset base of more than a trillion dollars”), emotions are bound to run high. This brings me to my final question based on the Smith’s slanderous stunt this morning; do companies as infamous as Goldman Sachs need a different kind of CEO – a Chief Emotion Officer? CJP

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