We’re pretty sure the first question you’re asking, if you didn’t know the answers already, is “Who is Greg Smith, and what does he have to do with branding?”
Greg Smith is, or more appropriately, was, a 12-year veteran of Goldman Sachs who, while having had his fair share of triumphs with the company, achieved worldwide renown (or infamy, depending on your view on things) for his strongly worded lambasting of his previous company in an opinion piece published in the New York Times.
You can read his letter here for the full story.
Back to the matter at hand. Whether you agree with Mr. Smith or not (and, trust us, there are many vocal advocates on both sides of the fence), there are some critical issues that we can delve into from a branding perspective in terms of the contents of his rant / confession / expose.
Here are just three.
#1: If you want to have principles, stick to them.
Goldman Sachs has fourteen business principles, which they tweak from time to time, but supposedly always adhere to. The first of these is Our clients’ interests always come first. When you read Greg Smith’s letter, it is the divergence from this principle that most troubles him. Principles aren’t just words on paper, or on a plaque on the wall. They are a guide for everyone within a company, a sort of set-in-stone compass. When employees believe that the people in power are diverging from them, they are likely to lose faith, or worse, come to the conclusion that since their superiors aren’t serious about keeping to their principles, then they aren’t obligated to either. What’s the point of having principles then, and what would the brand become with nothing to guide it?
Greg Smith has this to say;
“Not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients. It’s purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them. If you were an alien from Mars and sat in on one of these meetings, you would believe that a client’s success or progress was not part of the thought process at all.”
Is this where YOUR brand is headed?
#2: Create and sustain a culture.
Greg Smith describes the “old” Goldman Sachs culture in his piece:
“[C]ulture was always a vital part of Goldman Sachs’s success. It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients. The culture was the secret sauce that made this place great and allowed us to earn our clients’ trust for 143 years.”
But it seems that history, heritage and a strong ethical foundation pale in comparison to making billions from unwitting customers. When the emphasis is on the bottom line, then there is very little to stop a brand from losing its way. Detractors will say that business is all about making money (and this is double true when it comes to a financial investment giant like Goldman Sachs), but does that mean that we lose everything that made us unique in the first place just to make a quick buck? Or in the words of Greg Smith,
“Without clients you will not make money. In fact, you will not exist. Weed out the morally bankrupt people, no matter how much money they make for the firm. And get the culture right again, so people want to work here for the right reasons. People who care only about making money will not sustain this firm — or the trust of its clients — for very much longer.”
What’s your brand’s culture, and how has it worked for you?
#3: Trust building is business building.
“It astounds me how little senior management gets a basic truth: If clients don’t trust you they will eventually stop doing business with you. It doesn’t matter how smart you are.”
Greg Smith attempted to put trust in the spotlight again for business leaders, and in many ways, for brands as well. It doesn’t matter how cynical one may be, or how much one may think that Greg Smith had ulterior motives in saying what he said; the fact is, in today’s fast-paced consumer-centric world, trust is everything. The smallest slip-ups get spread like wildfire through social media and word of mouths, the slightest wrongdoings are broadcast to the world without fear or favour, and attempts to cover up mistakes lead to outcry, infamy and, if the Arab Spring is any indication, complete collapse.
How much of your business building involves trust building?
Whatever you may think of his methods, Greg Smith refocused the business world on integrity, trust and customer-centricity. The question is, will you heed his warnings and lessons, or shrug them off as mere disgruntled rantings?