The Unfortunates

There was a great photo in yesterday’s New York Times of Fabrice P. Tourre, the Goldman Sachs bond trader who helped devise the mortgage instruments his bank sold to investors – and then shorted, thus piling up enormous profits as the country plunged into financial chaos and massive loss. Monsieur Tourre, who hails from France and likes to call himself "Fabulous Fab," is looking over his shoulder at a non-too-sympathetic mob of Bastille-stormers while seated before a U.S. Senate subcommittee investigating the role of investment banks in the financial crisis, with a particular focus on Goldman’s mortgage machinations. The S.E.C. also accuses the firm and Tourre himself of fraud for selling an investment package created with an outside hedge fund, which then made billions by betting against the success of the booby-trapped vehicle. It won’t help Goldman’s case -- whether legal or in the court of public opinion -- that private memos between its executives describe at least some the deals they were selling to unwitting investors as “shitty.” When Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) asked about the email’s fragrant (and, as it turned out, accurate) choice of words, Goldman CFO David Viniar said, “I think that's very unfortunate to have on email.” Unfortunate? … Snickers rose from the crowd who thought perhaps they were witnessing a historic "let them eat merde" moment of tone-deaf response. But aside from word choice, do the various Goldman executives who testified for 11 hours feel any remorse, or even responsibility for the financial meltdown or exacerbating its effects? No, not at all. “I don't have any regrets about doing things that I think were improper,” said former Goldman mortgage chief Dan Sparks, who did allow that his bank had "made some poor decisions in hindsight.” Sen, John McCain (R-AZ) said that he did not know if the world's largest and most profitable investment bank did anything illegal but there was “no doubt” the firm behaved unethically. It remains to be seen if that judgment hurts the bank, which ironically tells its employees they should do nothing that would embarrass the firm if printed on the front page of a business newspaper. However you feel about the matter at hand, at least one objective lesson is clear from a communications standpoint – be very careful what you say in emails. They live on past your delete button -- and the really juicy ones, the ones that make you look foolish or dishonest, are bound to make it into business publications. ... Maybe even Senate hearings.
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