A number of high profile, highly-placed executives have been lambasting their former employers in the press, among them software engineer James Whittaker, who posted on an official Microsoft blog how Google+ has decimated the company, dismantling innovation and entrepreneurship in favor of a failing attempt to clone Facebook.

Yet the most damaging of all was Greg Smith, who leveled a volley of damaging accusations in The New York Times at his former employer Goldman Sachs, accusing them of a bottom-line mentality bereft of “moral fiber” that sacrificed the best interests of its vast client base (who are internally referred to as “muppets“). These public slaps in the face to former employers seem to be growing in popularity, but does the employee-writer-publicizer actually gain any advantage or is it counter-productive to the rest of their careers?

Very Few Lessons Learned from Lehman’s Implosion

A twelve year veteran of Goldman Sachs, the former Executive Director (similar to Vice President) Smith provided a troubling insight into the behind the scenes world of Wall Street and the generally dismissive attitude that these firms have for the customers who provide their very livelihood. In his article, Smith claimed that Goldman Sachs employees scoffed at the intelligence of clients who were eagerly purchasing financial instruments that the firm heavily promoted in order to unload them. Smith’s revelations are not entirely new, as Mark Dempsey’s Robbing You Blind and Fred Schwed’s Where Are The Customers’ Yachts? provide a number of disquieting examples of how the single minded pursuit of profits at all costs trumps the imperative to look after the customers’ best interests in a broad range of top financial firms.

It seems that very few lessons were learned in the executive suite by the Lehman Brothers’ greed-driven implosion and the rest of Wall Street’s shenanigans which plummeted the entire world into a nasty, stubborn, long-lasting recession. Smith’s letter drew considerable fire against Goldman Sachs, but a roughly equal amount of vitriol against him and his motives. It was especially telling that his resignation to the firm was tendered exactly 15 minutes before his article conveniently appeared on The New York Times’ website.

Hollywood Loves Whistleblowers

The world loves whistleblowers, as the popularity of Hollywood movies about them has proven:

  • The Insider
  • The Informant
  • Erin Brockovich
  • Silkwood
  • All The President’s Men
  • Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room

These stories have collectively earned hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office and have become firmly embedded in the public consciousness. The whistleblower is usually cast as a saintly figure who is martyred for the cause, but unabatedly continues on their sacred quest to publicly unmask the corporate evil-doers and save the world from their greedy schemes.

Fame Drives Public Revelations

Fame and notoriety may be a powerful driving force behind these public revelations, but there may be a number of other and equally strong motivations. One of these has to undoubtedly be a pure and positive form of altruism as after all, the whistleblowers are members of communities as well, with friends, family and children that may be victimized by these firms unless their noxious strategies are unraveled. On the flip side, it may be a play for a more prominent, lucrative or more high-profile position at a competitor of their former employer. It was not lost on many observers that Whittaker’s Google-bashing did not occur on a personal blog but on an official site of the Googleplex’s mortal enemy Microsoft.

The more cautious and wise corporate old hands may advise individuals leaving firms to not burn their bridges, and that may have been the preferred procedure in an earlier age. Kicking your former employee in their very public shins may be seen as a great way to obtain career advancement with a competitor, as long as they are not worried that history will repeat itself and their own dirty laundry will soon be aired. For the average Joe just looking to move on to a new company, high profile or no, it might be wise to stay civil, lest others start looking around for more stones to throw.