Much has been written about Greg Smith, the former Goldman Sachs executive who published his resignation letter in the New York Times recently. He wrote about how he believed the bank had lost its way, focused only on making money rather than “doing the right thing for their clients”; in other words, he felt they no longer served those who entrusted their finances to them.
While at the time there was a frenzy of social and mainstream media comment on this letter – and the manner in which Mr Smith resigned – it’s perhaps more valuable to reflect on why he chose to leave his almost certainly well-paid job.
Although some may not realise it, we are all in search of a higher purpose – the essence that adds meaning to each of our lives. Eric Ryan, founder of the green cleaning products company Method, reflects that as human beings we all want to be a part of something bigger than who we are and what we are. However, as Greg Smith has recently discovered, if you’re part of something that doesn’t share your beliefs and values, it doesn’t matter how large the financial benefits, it’s rarely sustainable. Indeed, I suspect when he declared his resignation – and declared it in a most public way – it was one of the easiest decisions he had taken. To stay in his job simply would not have ‘felt right’. There was a values mismatch.
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”.
A few days after Greg Smith resigned, I watched television coverage of The Queen making an historic speech in the Palace of Westminster as part of her Diamond Jubilee celebrations. It’s only the sixth time in her 60-year reign that she has addressed both Houses of Parliament and so it’s a rare opportunity for her to express her beliefs. She acknowledged the millions of people across the country, professional and voluntary, who serve others – working for the public good; she dwelt a little longer on the courage of those in the military. She concluded by reaffirming her dedication to continue to serve her country and her people; not bad for a lady of almost 86 – an age at which most of us will have been retired for over 20 years.
Whatever one’s disposition towards the Royal Family, few could dispute The Queen’s total commitment to what she sees as her duty and service to others. It was Ghandi who said: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”. The Queen knows that and perhaps it’s something Mr Greg Smith, formerly of Goldman Sachs, will now take the opportunity to discover.
That same afternoon, with The Queen’s words still resonating around the walls of Westminster, a C-17 aircraft flew slowly overhead my house on its approach to land at RAF Brize Norton. It carried the bodies of six British Army soldiers killed a few days earlier in Afghanistan. A very poignant reminder of what it can mean to serve; it’s no coincidence that the military are often referred to as ‘Service men and women’.
Kind of puts everything else into perspective.