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April 2, 2012

Goldman Sachs Advisor: “Nobody Puts Customers First”

In the latest chapter of the Goldman Sachs saga, last week a senior policy advisor, Arthur Levitt, shared his thoughts with the Wall Street Pit. He said Goldman should stop referring to putting customers first, because “nobody really puts customers first.”

That’s a bold statement to come from the inside of a company working overtime these days to assure the public (including clients) that they have a “client-driven culture.” 

I can name numerous companies, including many of my clients, who have a client-driven culture – not just in words, but in all-important actions.  None are perfect, but have the reputation and credibility with employees and other key stakeholders that they mean what they say, and make good on their promises every day.  As importantly, when they make a mistake, they admit it, fix what’s broken and work to make things right.  It’s all about integrity and dignity.

Also last week a former Goldman Sachs partner, Jacki Zehner who left the firm in 2002, spoke to CBS MoneyWatch and surprisingly, didn’t defend or condone the actions of her former employer, who she says she still supports. 

Rather, she said she recognizes the accusations from an op-ed by ex-Goldman executive Greg Smith might hold some truth.  Zeher said she thinks Goldman needs to be brave enough to answer media’s tough questions, participate in the lessons learned from this situation, and hopes this serves as a wake-up call for  the management committee and board of directors.

If Goldman leaders want to be able to say with integrity “we’re a client-driven organization,” extinguish the bad behaviors, hold employees—and each other—accountable for what they say and do, and improve their brand reputation, they need to acknowledge what’s broken as the first and most critical step, then fix it.

If they’re not putting customers first, who is Goldman putting first?  And what does that say about their organization?

What can we learn here and apply to our team or organization?

-David Grossman


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