Thursday, May 20, 2010

When business necessities trump professed corporate values: Goldman Sachs and Forest City Enterprises

In an article yesterday headlined Clients Worried About Goldman’s Dueling Goals, the New York Times concluded:
While Goldman [Sachs] has legions of satisfied customers and maintains that it puts its clients first, it also sometimes appears to work against the interests of those same clients when opportunities to make trading profits off their financial troubles arise.
Note that Goldman vigorously disputes the article.

Yes, Goldman was behind the Atlantic Yards bond deal, but the interesting parallel regards similar claims by the investment bank and Forest City Enterprises to high ethical standards, and evidence that such standards are trumped by business necessities.

Goldman's "15th principle"

The Times reports:
When new hires begin working at Goldman, they are told to follow 14 principles that outline the firm’s best practices. “Our clients’ interests always come first” is principle No. 1. The 14th principle is: “Integrity and honesty are at the heart of our business.”

But some former insiders, who requested anonymity because of concerns about retribution from the firm, say Goldman has a 15th, unwritten principle that employees openly discuss.

It urges Goldman workers to embrace conflicts and argues that they are evidence of a healthy tension between the firm and its customers. If you are not embracing conflicts, the argument holds, you are not being aggressive enough in generating business.

Mr. van Praag said the firm was “unaware” of this 15th principle, adding that “any business in any industry, has potential conflicts and we all have an obligation to manage them effectively.”
Forest City Enterprises' pledge of integrity

As for the values professed by Forest City Enterprises, under the heading "Integrity and Openness," the company states:
In all our dealings with all stakeholders, we will uphold the highest possible standards of ethical behavior. Our interactions will be characterized by an attitude of openness, candor and honesty.
Well, would the company's claims of jobs at the Atlantic Yards project pass muster? What about the complaint in 2006 from three Community Boards that Forest City Ratner overstated their participation in the Community Benefits Agreement? Or even continued claims that Frank Gehry was still on the job after he'd been bounced?

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