Greg Smith's New York Times op-ed and subsequent book created quite a stir. As a Goldman Sachs "alum," I received lots of emails and calls from friends, family and colleagues asking my opinion. Like many people, I was ambivalent upon reading Mr. Smith's stinging words because Goldman was not an easy place to work. But as the article prompted me to reflect on the entirety of my own career there, I concluded that my experience was quite different, and I think, worth sharing.
I worked at Goldman for a total of about nine years. I joined in 1993 as an analyst in the Investment Banking Division (IBD) and endured the routine all-nighters that became the badge of honor worn by ambitious young analysts across Wall Street. But I loved it. Some of the highest quality people with whom I have ever worked were from those days. Integrity, intense focus and clear communication were hallmark virtues of IBD that rubbed off on all of us in that era, and I carried those values to every subsequent job and through life in general. That was the Goldman-on-a-pedestal whose demise Greg Smith and others continually lament.
After two years in IBD, I was promoted to Associate and moved to the trading floor as a high yield corporate bond salesperson, working with another amazing and smart group of people. It was during this time that I experienced a life changing personal tragedy, so please indulge a brief detour into my personal life. My fiancé, Alan, was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer out of the blue at age 27. Needless to say, the diagnosis was heart-breaking and shocking. I was his primary caregiver and was out of work a lot during the seven months from diagnosis until he passed away. Fortunately, I worked for some incredibly supportive bosses who essentially told me, "Your priority is caring for and spending time with Alan; come to work if you need a change of scenery but do what you have to do." I couldn't have done it without such flexibility and compassion.
After Alan died in July 1996, I threw myself back into work forcefully because I didn't really know what else to do. Several years went by during which I couldn't get rid of intense anger about my situation. As I grew more senior at work, with increasing responsibility and expectations to match, professional stress built on top of the personal rage. I had also begun to suffer from a textbook case of a common industry affliction best described as "I'm not getting paid enough," generating significant bitterness toward the firm. (How I'd love to receive those oh-so-inadequate paychecks again.)
It was April 1999 when my boss Jon called me into his office. "I'm concerned. What's going on with you? When was the last time you took a vacation?" I couldn't remember. In his extremely decisive way, Jon ordered me to take vacation. And there would be no debate: "I don't care where you go or what you do; you have to get out of here and get some rest."
The decision I made that vacation week altered the course of my career and the rest of my life. I decided to leave NYC. The epiphany: the major reason I wasn't healing was that NYC was constantly rubbing salt in the wound and that Goldman was a related source of oppression. Soon thereafter, I got a job offer in Los Angeles. When I resigned from Goldman in January 2000. Jon wished me the best and said I'd be welcome back any time.
But alas, I had my first sour taste of "this isn't Goldman," as the new job wasn't the quick fix to my psyche I hoped it would be. I resigned after a year, having made the decision to travel around the world. That year was my personal version of Eat, Pray, Love but with far more than three destinations. During an October 2001 adventure in New Zealand, the totally unexpected happened. I met and fell in love... again... with an American from Chicago. In March 2002, he asked me to move in with him.
With the markets still recovering from 9/11, I landed back at Goldman. This time it was the Equities Division as a relationship manager for institutional clients around Chicago. It was an extremely easy transition, like coming home again. Yet, it was a miserable time with constant layoffs, and like many coworkers, I grew disillusioned by how much had changed in the business model and the culture. Going public had changed the firm in many of the expected ways, including the cashing out of some partners who had been recognized culture carriers. And of course, the trademark philosophy of being "long-term greedy" didn't fit as well in a company that was now reporting earnings on a quarterly basis.
I was ultimately given a severance package in February 2004, officially done with Wall Street. My subsequent "civilian" jobs included general manager of a local television station, COO/CFO of a marketing firm, and management consultant.
So here's the punch line: I've compared every other job I've had to Goldman and have been bored, frustrated, unimpressed, disappointed, or all of the above, at other organizations by comparison. Although I've worked with some terrific people at other firms, no other place else has matched up. Nowhere else have I found such an abundance of incredibly smart, professional, driven and engaging colleagues, the ability to repeatedly innovate and set gold standards, and management that gets it right far more often than they get it wrong.
So with the benefit of hindsight, I now realize it wasn't the job or Goldman that was lacking; I was. Somewhere along the line I went from being eternally grateful for the opportunity to work at the firm to taking it for granted and projecting. So unfortunately, I made what may have been a short-sighted decision to leave in 2000.
Don't get me wrong... I would not actually trade the way my life has unfolded. But I sometimes contemplate what might have occurred in an alternate reality in which I stayed longer, with the benefit of the right coaching to talk me down off my confused ledge. Such musings tell me that I still feel quite an affinity for the place, and I felt compelled to toss in my two cents after Greg Smith's diatribe.
So getting back to the title, "Why I Wish I Had Stayed at Goldman Longer." It was not intended to pay homage to or defend the firm. I simply believe that working there was more beneficial to my career, intellectual stimulation, and accumulation of best practices than any other place I've worked. Thus, I believe staying longer would have been a good thing. In the years since leaving, I've realized that much of the bitterness I felt was a combination of personal issues, nostalgia for the Goldman of the past, and naively misplaced frustration at what I've come to realize were necessary changes at the firm. It was never personal; it was always business.