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Goldman Sachs resignation letter: Small teams and comfort zones

When it comes to literary endeavors, resignation letters from banking jobs are a genre of their own. One of the most famous was written by Greg Smith, a VP whose 2012 exit from Goldman Sachs was proclaimed in an open letter to the firm published in the New York Times, which was followed by a large book deal. This was succeeded by Deutsche Bank associate Bill Kennan's resignation in 2016, in which he confessed to padding his "110-hour staffing log with rogue assignments."

Frankfurt executive director (ED) Luca Kleinlugtenbelt's resignation letter from Goldman Sachs isn't as critical as Greg Smith's or as confessional as Bill Kennan's, but it does contain some potential snipes at the firm where Kleinlugtenbelt spent the past six and a half years working in M&A. 

Despite growing rapidly, Goldman has "persevered its relatively small teams," says Kleinlugtenbelt. By their nature, these are "mostly understaffed" and therefore, "push people out of their comfort zone." Goldman's technology systems aren't always the best, he adds, quoting an anonymous MD - but any technological inadequacies are compensated by the strength of Goldman's people. And Goldman has institutionalized impatience: "After leaving GS you might start getting nervous if someone is not picking up the phone after it rang twice or people don’t understand why you “chase” them after you sent an email 5 mins ago."

Luca Kleinlugtenbelt didn't comment for this article and it's not clear from his resignation email (which we've published in full below) where he's going next. Goldman itself didn't respond to a request to comment.

On balance, it's clear that Kleinlugtenbelt valued his time at Goldman and considers the firm a special place. It's also clear, that he appreciates that leaving Goldman may require some adjustment - other employers don't expect the same levels of productivity or have the same attention to detail.  Leaving Goldman Sachs is to enter a foreign country; as ex-Goldman associate and academic Alexandra Michel noted a few years ago, people who quit banking often try to perpetuate the same extreme working practices in their new jobs, even if they're in different industries. 

Goldman cut 3,200 jobs in January this year. Kleinlugtenbelt doesn't say whether he was impacted by this process, which is likely to have taken longer in Germany. He does, say - wryly and ironically, that people shouldn't be too sad to see him because he wasn't that good anyway....

Very good luck to him in whatever he does next.

Luca Kleinlugtenbelt's Goldman Sachs resignation letter in full

It’s time to say goodbye (for now)...

When I walked through the front doors of the GS Frankfurt office several years ago I didn’t think about an after-GS world nor did I expect I would be writing this email already now. GS is seen by many as a pit stop on their way up to the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – or in the words of a large German newspaper: “at Goldman people don’t retire because of age but because of new opportunities”. Also for me it’s now time to move on to new opportunities.

However before saying goodbye let me go back to my first interaction with GS: interviews. A lot of interviewers ask the question “why do you want to join Goldman Sachs?” and most answers circle around all the text boxes on gs.com/careers and change with every website update – but what at the core is it that makes GS exceptional? After being with the firm for a few years I think I am finally able to answer it:

It’s the unique GS culture.

...Proactiveness

While many global firms give a strict framework of tasks and business lines GS pushes and lives from the proactiveness of its employees. By teaching this even to our most junior interns we sow an entrepreneurial mindset from which everyone profits during their time at GS as well as afterwards.

...Pushiness

Starting at GS “chasing” was a foreign word to me. Within the first weeks as an intern I learned quite quickly that if you send an email that is not the moment when your task is completed but rather the moment when the work started. After leaving GS you might start getting nervous if someone is not picking up the phone after it rang twice or people don’t understand why you “chase” them after you sent an email 5 mins ago – it’s a thin line of using the GS pushiness in the non-GS world.

...Attention to Detail

Whoever thinks one comes from university and has mastered it knows after 1-2 months at GS they haven’t. Whether in IBD or GMD attention to detail at its core protects us on one hand from errors and financial losses and on the other side – more importantly – helps us to service our clients in the best possible way which makes us stand out from the rest of the street.

...Team Spirit

Although being an over 150 year organisation and having grown to over 50,000 employees the firm has persevered its relatively small teams – that by nature are mostly understaffed and as a result push people out of their comfort zone to new levels of productivity but also more importantly create a true team spirit and “we” approach within these groups – only if you work together with your team you can achieve the 110%.

...Everyone

GS lived and lives from its people or as an anonymous MD once said “we might not have the best tech systems but we just make sure we hire the best people to compensate for that”. Let’s make sure that every new hiring decision is at its core based on the fundamental desire to hire the best talent – and only the best – even if it requires to run the extra mile while the war for talent continues to heat up.

Let’s ensure the Zeitgeist only changes the surface but not the core and the GS culture doesn’t become a victim of its time.

I wish everyone the success they deserve! Never forget the GS wheel always continues to turn – GS lives from its alumni in the same way as from its people. And for everyone who is personally sad to see me leave just remember: I wasn’t that good anyway. ;)

Goodbye, auf Wiedersehen and see you hopefully soon.

Luca

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AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • ph
    photobug56
    19 May 2023

    I don't personally know whether GS has such a culture, but I do know that people I've met who've come through GS tend to be quite competent. I see far less of that at all sorts of major FI's in NYC, I see greed, incompetence, nepotism, laziness, awful mismanagement, and top people who don't trust any of their subordinates. I think of Dimon, who thinks he's God's gift to banking, but no so much his employees. I think of BOA, which a friend survived years of very bad manager. I think of a foreign bank I was at where an outside managed survey found that most managers were unable or unwilling to actually manage or make decisions. I find myself wondering why so many parts of so many FI's are so badly managed. And it's not just banks; I'm thinking of one firm whose name starts with M where they are now forcing all employees to be on site regardless of harm, including greatly reduced productivity and much more strain on their employees.


    I'm also thinking of the ageism. So many of you thinking you'll have a full career in banking need to be prepared to retire by 50, maybe 40, because so few firms value experience and ability in favor of youth and aggressiveness. Culture in so many firms is more about waiting to see who you can stab in the back.


    If GS can avoid all these issues, I wonder why people leave there voluntarily?

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