World News‎ > ‎

Former Goldman banker always stuck to principles says headmaster

posted 15 Mar 2012, 07:49 by Mpelembe   [ updated 15 Mar 2012, 07:49 ]

The ex-headmaster of King David school in Johannesburg says that former pupil Greg Smith was the kind of person whose strong sense of right and wrong probably pushed him to resign from Goldman Sachs.

Greg Smith was a principled and competitive student, the kind of person whose strong sense of right and wrong probably pushed him to resign from Goldman Sachs in a scathing letter to an international newspaper, his former headmaster said on Thursday (March 15).
A quiet, unassuming child, the South African first attended the private Jewish King David's High School in suburban Johannesburg before winning a scholarship to Stanford University in the United States.

Smith then joined Goldman Sachs, a workplace he once loved but described in his resignation letter in the New York Times on Wednesday (March 14) as having developed an environment "as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it".

"He was always highly highly intelligent, highly sensitive and highly principled. It was just part of his character," Elliot Wolf, the school's retired headmaster, told Reuters in an interview, "He would never at any time accept or condone anything that he felt was irregular or untoward or dishonest."

"I think that he's highly principled and a person of the highest integrity, and if he took a stand like this there obviously was something about the running of Goldman Sachs which didn't side with his standards, his values," he added.

Wolf, who is now retired after 34 years at the school including 28 as headmaster, said he remembered Smith well from teaching him Latin and that he was loved by all because he was polite, unassuming and decent.

The Goldman Sachs banker sat a total of eight exams in his final year of secondary school in 1996, winning a distinction in every subject, Wolf said. According to school records, Smith's subjects included maths, advanced maths, Hebrew, English, Afrikaans and accounting.

"He was one of the unassuming, humble people who didn't really ever bluster or demand attention or anything like that for himself. He just behaved very well, he was always immaculately dressed, he ws curteous, he got on very well with his contemporaries, and was highly respected for being a thoroughly decent young man," Wolf said.

Smith, who worked in equity derivatives, said it had made him ill at Goldman to hear his colleagues joke about cheating clients.

"Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as 'muppets'," Smith said.

In Britain, "muppet" is slang for a stupid person.

Wolf also recalled Smith as a skilled table tennis player. Smith, in his 30s, said in his letter one of the proudest moments of his life was winning the bronze medal at the Maccabiah Games in Israel for table tennis.