April 26, 2010

Subordinates, How Not to Treat Your

As regular readers know, I read the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times every morning because I secretly find the world of finance to be as fascinating as defense policy. And every once in a while, something I read in the business pages has relevance to what is discussed on this blog.

As people smarter than me have already pointed out, it does not appear the SEC has much of a case against Goldman Sachs. The investigation into potential wrong-doing, though, has shed a less than flattering light on Goldman's organizational culture and business practices. And something I read on Page C5 of the Journal this morning struck me.

On Saturday, Goldman released batches of emails by Mr. Tourre to girlfriends that revealed doubts about some mortgage securities issued by the company and an occasionally dismissive attitude toward the investors buying them.


Goldman also released translations of portions of emails that originally were in French, including some messages with details about Mr. Tourre's personal life.


The scope of the released documents led to widespread speculation that Goldman was seeking to make more-senior executives who also are caught in an uncomfortable political and public-relations spotlight look better by comparison to the 31-year-old trader.

This is the kind of thing that makes me thank the Lord that I go to work every morning and answer to a retired U.S. Army officer and a former Marine Corps officer as my supervisors. Because I know that neither John nor Nate will ever throw me under the bus in the way that it appears some of Goldman's executives are throwing this French bond trader under the bus. In fact, on multiple occassions over the past year, I have either offended someone or written something outrageous on this blog, and John and Nate have had my back every time, earning my loyalty in the process. Where did they learn to protect their subordinates? 

The U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps, of course. It's true that we have all seen field grade officers allow a junior officer to take the fall for something, and I know some guys at Goldman who seem to be top-flight men of character. (Some of them, not surprisingly, are former military officers themselves.) But reading this article in the Journal this morning made my stomach turn on the Green Line into work, because it goes completely against the ethic we learned as young officers. Protect and mentor your subordinates. They will, in turn, reward you with their loyalty and hard work. This is smart advice that applies as equally to business as it does to military organizations, and you wonder if management at Goldman couldn't use some remedial training from the gang at MCB Quantico.