Question of the Week: Who Had the Best Exit Line?

Well, Greg Smith certainly made a name for himself, resigning from his job as a Goldman Sachs derivatives trader in an Op-Ed column Wednesday in the New York Times. “I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it,” Smith wrote.

To which I thought: What is the more preposterous aspect of this? That someone at Goldman is acknowledging the firm’s behavior as a “great vampire squid,” in Matt Taibbi’s deathless characterization? Or that the rest of us act like we are being taken by surprise?

But then the Twitterverse and the blogosphere got hold of it. First thing you know, we had Darth Vader’s announcement of “Why I Am Leaving the Empire” (“Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and killing your former mentor with a lightsaber.”) and then a seemingly endless succession of roundups of responses.

A Goldman spokeswoman was quoted in Deal Journal as saying: “We disagree with the views expressed, which we don’t think reflect the way we run our business. In our view, we will only be successful if our clients are successful. This fundamental truth lies at the heart of how we conduct ourselves.” An unnamed person familiar with the matter said in the Deal Journal  post: “Smith’s role is actually vice president, a relatively junior position held by thousands of Goldman employees around the world. And Mr. Smith is the only employee in the derivatives business that he heads, this person said.”

The general mirth did remind us of other famous exit lines, starting with Rhett Butler‘s: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

The New York Times has played this game in the past. In 2009, for instance, it made an Op-Ed out of the resignation letter of Jake DeSantis, an executive vice president at American International Group: “I can no longer effectively perform my duties in this dysfunctional environment, nor am I being paid to do so.”

Another public exit was made by Michael Arrington of TechCrunch, who lost out against AOL executive and Huffington Post publisher Arianna Huffington in a high-drama battle for editorial control of the website he founded but later sold to AOL. As Arrington said later from the perch of his subsequent online home, unCrunched, “Public executions of leaders tend to have a severe chilling effect on whoever takes over, and Arianna Huffington is, without a doubt, the current editor in chief of TechCrunch.”

And despite its reputation as a company with a commitment to “Don’t Be Evil,” Google has inspired some colorful postmortems by former employees. Ex-software engineer Michael Church rendered this judgment: “Google has an immense amount of talent ‘under its roof.’ Unfortunately, there’s a necrotic layer of useless and counterproductive middle management coming up with a series of ‘innovations’ that each have made the company worse.”

Who had the most awful/awesome/awe-inspiring curtain call? That’s the question for you, dear reader. In rendering your judgment, feel free to follow the links to read the commentaries in all their acid-drenched glory. Or if we have overlooked your favorite farewell, share a link in the comments below and we will publish it with our results on Friday.

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Steve Bills is a senior editor at Buyouts Magazine. Any opinions expressed here are entirely his own. Follow him on Twitter @Steve_Bills. Follow Buyouts tweets @Buyouts. For information on how to subscribe, contact Greg Winterton at greg.winterton@thomsonreuters.com.

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