March 17 (Bloomberg) -- Greg Smith, the former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. derivatives salesman whose critique of the Wall Street firm earned him $150 from the New York Times, has eluded book agents and publishers who say his story could make him a lot more.
“The sky’s the limit,” said Esther Newberg of International Creative Management in New York who’s been a literary agent for 35 years. She said two of her colleagues have reached out to Smith. “Agents and publishers are trying to talk to him. The feedback we get is that he’s hiding for a while.”
Smith said in a March 14 opinion piece that a “toxic and destructive” environment at Goldman Sachs drove him to quit after 12 years. He reignited a debate about Wall Street that played out on televisions and in newspapers around the world. Goldman Sachs, the most profitable and highest-paying firm in Wall Street history before the 2008 financial crisis, said it disagreed with Smith’s depiction and that most employees say the company provides exceptional client service.
Goldman Sachs has also been unsuccessful in attempts to contact Smith, who e-mailed his resignation at the same time his article was published, a person familiar with the matter said. The New York Times reported that Smith, a South African and a Stanford University graduate, flew to New York this week from London, where he’s worked for about a year. Smith didn’t reply to a voicemail left on his mobile phone.
Smith’s depiction of the firm’s sales practices -- employees who deride clients as “muppets” and brag of “ripping eyeballs out” -- resonated with a public angry about bailouts of banks during the crisis, said Priscilla Painton, executive editor for nonfiction at Simon & Schuster.
Touched a Nerve
“His message touched a nerve that’s particularly tender right now,” she said. “It’s not very often that people from inside the industry are willing to denounce it.”
That Smith worked at Goldman Sachs, whose alumni include two U.S. Treasury secretaries, is even more appealing because of the firm’s influence, Painton said. David Wells, a spokesman at Goldman Sachs in New York, declined to comment.
The potential book drew comparisons to “Liar’s Poker,” Michael Lewis’s 1989 best-seller about his experience working at investment bank Salomon Brothers and its culture of greed and risk-taking. Lewis is a Bloomberg View columnist.
Albert Zuckerman, founder of New York-based Writers House, which represents Lewis, said Smith’s prospects for a book deal are good -- with caveats.
“It’s a book fraught with potential lawsuits” because Smith’s detailed recollections could be libelous, Zuckerman said. “Publishers would be very interested if he were to ally himself with an important writer who would know how to make his book interesting, dramatic and not legally perilous.”
If Smith wants to write a book, he can’t wait too long to strike a deal, Zuckerman and Painton said.
“News is perishable,” Painton said. “Who knows what other Wall Street developments will overtake this one?”