Greg Smith And The Squid: A Wall Street Story

by Beth Connolly on September 13, 2012

How long does it take to write a book?

If you’re Greg Smith, a very publicly disenchanted ex-Wall Street Banker, it only takes you a few months.

Of course, it came as no surprise that Smith got a book deal. But I was shocked when I heard that his book is coming out so soon.

Let’s construct a timeline here:

March 14, 2012: Greg Smith’s letter of resignation published in the New York Times

March 30, 2012 (or slightly earlier): Smith’s book deal is announced, with Grand Central Publishing. The advance? $1.5 million.

October 22, 2012: Release date of Why I Left Goldman Sachs: A Wall Street Story.

Why the addendum of “A Wall Street Story”? Is this an allusion to the Muppets version of “A Christmas Carol”? Is the book being marketed to readers who don’t know that Goldman Sachs is a major Wall Street bank? Is this a story, or a tell-all memoir (a.k.a., the truth)? Were the publishers trying to differentiate between the memoir’s title and the title of the resignation letter? If so, it seems redundant, as the letter was actually titled, “Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs.” But, in support of this theory, the words “I Left” on the book’s cover are inexplicably bronzed, distinguishing them from the other words on the cover, which are white.

If you look at the specific dates above, you will realize that Smith only had a maximum of five months–but probably much less time–to write his book. I don’t know the typical industry deadlines between manuscript submission and book release, but I doubt it takes any less than two months.

Well, Smith probably doubled down, relied on his Wall Street 80-hour-week work ethic, and churned it out. If this is the case, the book is probably going to be poorly written, full of errors, and badly structured.

Or else, maybe, after Smith hung up the phone with Grand Central Publishing that cold day in March, he walked over to his bed, lifted up his mattress, and pulled out a well-worn, nearly-finished manuscript, dog-eared from constant reading and revision. He hugged it to his chest, then pulled out a cigarette and lighter from his bathrobe pocket, and sat down on his bed. He stared into space, taking long drags on his cigarette, and dreaming up the final paragraph of the final chapter of the book he’d been working on since the end of his first summer internship at Goldman.

If that is the case, then we can see Smith as a figure quite far removed from the virtuous muck-raking, populist champion he was made out to be in March.

Instead, we see a calculating, adroit businessman, willing to take advantage of others in order to make a buck. A man who, like a true stockbroker, knew when to buy, when to hold, and when to sell. His major asset: a story that would have been a minor blip before the financial crisis (back when all of the dirty deeds Smith deplores were actually going down), but appreciated significantly in value with the rise of Occupy Wall Street and its vampire-squid-hating masses. Before Smith published his letter, anti-Goldman sentiment was at its pinnacle; he capitalized on it.

If that is the case, then we can see Smith as a figure that bears much in common with the colleagues he excoriated in his resignation letter.

But alas, even the best minds on Wall Street sometimes misread the market. Even they cannot predict the future. Smith may have expected the Goldman uproar to carry steadily through his book publication date. But he neglected to account for the tenacity and cunning of the squid itself, his former employer. He failed to account for the effect his own actions would have on the market.

After the publication of the letter, and amid the hiring of a new PR chief, Goldman retrenched to strengthen its position. There was really nothing the bank could do to change public opinion other than not screw up for a while, and that is what it did, with all the devotion of a new convert. And for this devotion, it was rewarded: God was kind to the squid and rained down scandals upon its peers. JPMorgan, UBS, RBS, Barclays, HSBC, and Standard Chartered stole the spotlight with their unethical doings. Regulators came under fire for failing to properly regulate. And Goldman hid out in the corner all summer, largely ignored by the muckraking media.

All that Grand Central Publishing could do was speed along the release of their little Wall Street Story, and hope that its contents would be heeded by all of those who had not forgotten Smith’s name.

But should the audience have forgotten, the published tacked on the helpful identifier: “A Wall Street Story.”

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Beth Connolly is Editor-in-Chief of the Wall Street Job Report and the Compliance Exchange. She blogs creatively at When Nutmeg Met Basil. Connect with her on LinkedIn , Twitter, and About.Me.

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