ethics.jpgYesterday I got an interesting survey ranking the top banks people want to work for. And I was surprised to see troubled and corrupt Goldman Sachs was at the top of the list.

In July, the investment bank agreed to settle a Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit for $550 million in connection with fraud claims that Goldman backed a mortgage investment it knew was bad. And that lawsuit wasn’t even about the bigger, more unsavory revelations about Goldman that came out of the housing bust. In emails, employees at the firm bragged about making obscene profits out of the collapsing housing market.

The firm, and it’s CEO Lloyd Blankfein, were torn apart in the press for months, but it did little to tarnish the glow of Goldman, according to a poll by Vault.com.

The survey was actually conducted when all the Goldman hubbub was going on and it polled more than 1,300 banking professionals at all levels.

“Despite all the negative press Goldman Sachs received during the past year, including a highly-publicized SEC lawsuit, Goldman remains the most highly sought after banking firm, according to professionals in the industry,” said Derek Loosvelt, Vault finance editor. “Employees at the firm also noted that, the media attacks aside, Goldman is still a great place to work, and that’s reflected in its No. 1 ranking.”

I’ve written extensively about how a company’s tarnished reputation can impact employee morale and how being a crummy company, and getting intense public scorn, will cause workers to want to flee, or at least not work as hard. I wrote a story about this in May, even mentioning Goldman among other troubled firms such as BP and Toyota. So, I had to ask, WTF is up with this survey?

Goldman topped the list:

1. Goldman Sachs
2. The Blackstone Group
3. J. P. Morgan Investment Bank
4. Credit Suisse
5. Houlihan Lokey
6. Moelis & Company
7. UBS Investment Bank
8. Centerview Partners
9. Jefferies & Company
10. William Blair & Company

This got me thinking I should ask some company crisis experts who have espoused the theory that being bad isn’t good for employee love. Why would Goldman, or any company that has gone through what they’ve gone through, be hailed as work nirvana?

I sent a message last night asking some experts I’ve interviewed in the past these questions.

I thought this kind of stuff hurt employee morale. What do you think is going on here?
Why would Goldman still be seen as the gold standard as far as place to work in banking? I’m scratching my head over here.

Here’s what I got back:

Richard Coughlan, an associate professor of management at the University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business and also the school’s senior associate dean:

First, morale among the bankers at Goldman Sachs did not take much of a hit, even in the darkest hours. For many of them, the scrutiny by the media and the regulators was a reason to forge tighter bonds.

Second, the survey seems to have involved only a couple dozen employees from each of 80 different institutions, so it is hardly a scientific measure of satisfaction on the job. I suspect this was really about measuring esprit-de-corps within organizations and long-held beliefs by bankers about the most prestigious firms in the industry. Given that, we ought not be surprised at the outcome.

Finally, in the eyes of those on Wall Street, the “best” banks are usually the ones that award the biggest bonuses.

Christine Probett, a management and human resource professor at San Diego State University:

Very simple, actually, Goldman pays exceptionally well. They made #24 of Fortune’s best companies to work for (They were #9 last year…maybe the slip this year is related to the public ridicule?)

Peter Firestein, a senior management consultant specializing in corporate reputation and author of “Crisis of Character: Building Corporate Reputation in the Age of Skepticism.”:

People who go into investment banking and trading are not inclined to worry about their institution’s external reputation. In the world of finance and banking, Goldman is still the top name. It’s the bank with which corporate issuers of debt and equity want to be associated. It’s the bank whose traders carry the most power and prestige. The fines it pays are affordable and regarded internally as nothing more than the price of doing business. There’s no reason to go to into banking other than to become wealthy. Goldman still gives its employees the best chance to do that. They don’t much care what journalists making a small fraction of their pay have to say.

Ouch!. That last line hurt. But point taken.

Most of these answers are quite depressing to me. We try so hard to beat into our kids that it’s not all about the money, but is that just a big fat lie? What happened to wanting to do something to help society, become a better person?

All this time we thought Goldman employees were embarrassed to talk about where they worked. Turns out, many were proud as heck, and still others are pinning for a Goldman office.

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