Goldman Sachs VP explains why he quit

Greg Smith, who publicly resigned in scathing op-ed, says investment bank's unethical culture threatens firm's future

The following is a script from "Resignation" which aired on Oct. 21, 2012. Anderson Cooper is the correspondent. Andy Court and Anya Bourg, producers.

Many of us have, at some point in our lives, dreamed of quitting our jobs very loudly and telling our bosses exactly what we really think. Very few of us ever do it. But seven months ago, a vice president at the legendary investment bank Goldman Sachs did just that, resigning in an article on the op-ed page of The New York Times. The article caused a sensation -- not just because its author Greg Smith was saying, three-and-a-half years after the financial crisis, that the bank was headed on the wrong ethical course, but also because it's so unusual to learn anything at all about the inner workings of Goldman Sachs.

When people leave Goldman, they tend to do it quietly. Though the firm's gold-plated reputation took a big hit after the 2008 financial crisis, it's still regarded as the smartest, most profitable and politically well-connected firm on Wall Street, and the toughest place to get a job. Now, on the eve of publishing a book about his experiences at Goldman, Greg Smith is talking for the first time about what led him to leave the firm, and to do it in such a public way.

Greg Smith: I literally wanted to hit the board of directors over the head, and say, Listen, I was proud of Goldman Sachs. I worked here for a long time.

Anderson Cooper: So an op-ed resignation, you hoped it would be a wake up call?

Greg Smith: I really did. Because there are a lotta people who acknowledge things internally. But no one is willing to say it publicly. And my view was the only way, you force people to change the system, is by saying something publicly.

At the time he left Goldman Sachs, Greg Smith was 33 years old, and making roughly half a million dollars a year as a vice president, a mid-level position in the division of Goldman Sachs that trades securities for hedge funds, pension funds, and other big investors. He'd been at the firm for about 12 years, and could hardly have scripted a more dramatic exit. "Integrity? It is eroding," he wrote in The New York Times. "The environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it...it makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off."

Greg Smith: You know, this might be hard for people at Goldman Sachs to understand, but I loved the place. I put a lot of my heart and soul into it. I don't view it as a betrayal. I actually think the leaders of Goldman Sachs today don't have the long run interests of the institution at heart.

Anderson Cooper: Did anybody within the firm know you were going to be leaving?

Greg Smith: No.

Anderson Cooper: So, the first time many people within Goldman Sachs learned you were leaving was when they opened up The New York Times and saw this op-ed.

Greg Smith: Yeah, I mean the idea of the op-ed was not to do any destruction.

Anderson Cooper: I think some people are-- just aren't going to believe that, that-- to not give notice to a company you've worked for for 12 years, and in the most public way possible in the page of The New York Times, to say that they are going against all the values that they once held, how can that not be seen by-- as a betrayal?

Greg Smith: Well, it's true. I mean, I think the company is going against the values it once held.

[Goldman Sachs recruiting video: Join a culture of excellence, with a reputation for integrity...Goldman Sachs.]

For years Greg Smith was one of the company's true believers. He was selected to appear in this 2006 recruiting video, in which he talked about the business principles Goldman teaches to every new employee.

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