Back on 12 June 2000, as the dot-com bubble was deflating, young Greg Smith was all puffed up, clutching his "extra-large coffee" and looking up "at the formidable tower that housed Goldman Sach's equities trading headquarters" in New York. "Holy shit," he thought, as he arrived for the first day of his summer internship at the Wall Street bank.
More than a decade later, on 14 March 2012, not long after a different financial bubble had burst, the remark may well have risen in a hush over the Goldman dealing room as wide-eyed traders pored over an opinion piece in The New York Times. Title? "Why I'm Leaving Goldman Sachs". Author? Greg Smith. "Today is my last day at Goldman Sachs," Mr Smith proclaimed. Over 12 years, he said, he had understood what made the bank tick. "And I can honestly say that the environment is now as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it."
Now, Mr Smith, who had risen to become a Goldman executive director and head of the firm's US equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa before quitting, is preparing tell us the full story. According to reports, his biting commentary on Goldman won him a book deal and a cool $1.5m (£930,000) advance, with the product of his labours, imaginatively titled Why I Left Goldman Sachs, set to hit the shelves on 22 October. The night before, he is reported to be planning to break his self-imposed hiatus from the public square with a US television interview. Ahead of the launch, Goldman yesterday said it had conducted a detailed review of Mr Smith's claims and found no evidence to support them.
But as we near the release date, it seems the firm's President Gary Cohn, who along with chief executive Lloyd Blankfein merited special mention in Mr Smith's op-ed for losing "hold of the firm's culture on their watch", is likely to be among those waiting in line for a copy of the tome. "I probably will read it," he said during an interview on Bloomberg television earlier this month. If Mr Cohn wants an early look, the first chapter was released on the Apple iBookstore this week. Titled "I Don't Know, But I'll Find Out", it offers a glimpse of Mr Smith's first days in the belly of the "great vampire squid", as the bank was memorably dubbed by Rolling Stone.
Back then Mr Smith was a dedicated convert to the Goldman cause. That summer's day, the 21-year-old had no premonition of what – in his view – Goldman would become, and how he would go on to feel. Young Mr Smith, then on a scholarship at Stanford, was, to his mind, justifiably proud. "The selection process for any type of job at Goldman Sachs is extremely rigorous. On average, only one in 45 people... who apply for a summer internship, or a full-time job, get an offer," he says. To get ahead, he'd prepped hard for the interview. "I'd read The Culture of Success, a history of the firm by Lisa Endlich, a former Goldman VP," he reveals. Who doesn't, right?
With a toe in the door, Mr Smith was issued with a folding stool and a "big orange ID badge" on a "bright orange lanyard" – status markers to remind an intern that he or she was mere "plebe, a newbie, a punk-kid". "It was innately demeaning," he says, recounting how interns had to carry around the stools "at all times because there were no extra chairs at the trading desks".
The internship itself was demanding. "You came to work at 5:45 or 6:00 or 6:30 in the morning," Mr Smith recalls. Goldman interns were put through two "Open Meetings" a week, where "a partner would stand at the front of the room with a list of names and call on people at will with questions on the firm's storied culture, its history, on the stock market".
"Depending on the personal style of the people in charge, the meetings could be brutal. They were always intense," Mr Smith says, recalling how, on one occasion, an intern was rebuked by a VP for not knowing enough about Goldman's stance on Microsoft shares. "What is our price target? What are the catalysts coming up? How has the stock been trading? Come on," said VP barks, according to the account. The hapless intern "starts to tear up and runs out of the room".
Smith also recalls the treatment handed out to an intern after a managing director ordered a cheddar cheese sandwich and was presented with a cheddar cheese salad. The boss "opened the container, looked at the salad, looked up at the kid, closed the container and threw it in the trash". "It was a bit harsh, but it was also a teaching moment," Mr Smith writes.
The anecdotes chime with the caricature of Wall Street as a laddish jungle where ritual hazing is just part of doing business. But at this early stage there is none of the greed that Mr Smith spoke of in his op-ed – he claimed, for instance, that people in the firm "callously talk about ripping their clients off". Instead, the gruelling intern routine is presented as a way of training new initiates to be "truthful, resourceful, collaborative".
Tantalisingly, though, Chapter 5 is titled "Welcome to the Casino".
Wall Street high-rollers back Romney over Obama this time
Goldman Sachs and other big names on Wall Street are proving Mitt Romney's most potent backers in the presidential election campaign, figures show.
The Republican challenger and his allies raised $170.5m in September, just short of the 2012 fund-raising record set last month by President Barack Obama. The Republicans began this month with $191.2m in cash in hand. Papers filed on Monday revealed the sources of money raised by Mr Romney for the Romney Victory fund he uses jointly with the Republican National Committee. Campaigns can accept only up to $5,000 from an individual donor, while a joint fund may accept up to $70,800 on top of that. Staff at Goldman Sachs donated $1.3m in the third quarter of this year, up from just over $900,000 in the second quarter.
Other big Wall Street contributors over the past three months included JPMorgan, which gave $827,941, and the private equity investor Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, which handed over $986,400.
Many bankers have switched allegiance to Mr Romney after backing Mr Obama in 2008. Some have accused the President of being "anti-business" and worry how he will tackle the fiscal crisis. Reuters.