03/15/2012 12:22 pm ET Updated May 15, 2012

The Muppet Man

Have you seen the movie Jerry Maguire, where slick sports agent Tom Cruise stays up all night writing his "mission statement" about what is wrong with his company's corporate culture and then puts a copy of it in everyone's mailbox? In one scene, he stands in the middle of the office after being fired and tries desperately to get others to come along with him as he starts his own firm. One person joins him. The rest are calling Cruise's clients.

It takes guts (and a little bit of crazy) to flame out in such a public way. Yet we watched the real-life version play out Wednesday as company executive Greg Smith, the most recent corporate whistleblower of sorts, called it like he saw it. Smith resigned from Goldman Sachs by publishing a scathing screed on the New York Times op-ed page, saying the firm lacks integrity, leadership and is foisting unwanted products on its clients. "It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as 'muppets,' sometimes over internal e-mail."


In Smith's case, there was more than one friend to cheer him on as he attempted to slay Goliath. Facebook friends posted positive comments on his wall (where he has 206 friends) in response to his op-ed. The posts have since been hidden.

Friend Jon Glassman wrote: "Greg, I am impressed. Choosing to blow the whistle is always a risky decision. The easy way out is to do so anonymously. You've taken the high road and penned a succinct, well written op-ed with actionable advice. I'm proud that you were my RA."

And from Alan Bisarya: "I'm proud of you standing up for yourself and your values bro. You've always been a huge pillar of integrity. (on another note, I lost my glasses case, did you find them in London)."

Within hours, the blogosphere screamed with opinions, including one very funny satire where Darth Vader quits the Empire saying he no longer feels at home. The media sunk their teeth into the hero/villain debate, asking questions like: Is Smith's epic bridge-burning appropriate for someone who has collected a handsome paycheck for 12 years? Where is his sense of loyalty? Why give the ultimate finger-in-the-eye on the way out the door?

As someone who worked for a large corporation, I've seen many stand on the sidelines criticizing management instead of wading in and working together to right the ship. That doesn't mean I'm feeling sorry for Goldman Sachs. A lot of what Smith says rings true. I've also read enough inside accounts of Wall Street by the likes of bond trader-turned-journalist Michael Lewis to know clients don't always come first. Or second, or third...

If I were a betting woman, I'd say this will not be the last we hear from Greg Smith. From his very public exit, I suspect this story will have legs as we say in the business.

I'll be all ears. He had me at muppet.

This piece is crossposted at: