Muppets Unite

“Were you popular in school Dad?”, my daughter asked me recently.   

“Not really”, I told her.  “I had a group of friends I hung out with and that was good enough for me.” 

My oldest is getting to the age where things like being popular are starting to be topics of conversation amongst her friends.  One of the things I continually impress upon her is to make sure she chooses a friend based on that person’s inherent qualities rather than how many people seem to like that person.   

It’s a common trap that we fall into as humans.  We follow the herd, we do what others are doing, we want to be seen as being “with it.”

Sadly, it’s a phenomenon that carries into the corporate world as well.   

Goldman Sachs.  The firm many hopeful MBAs strive to work for.  The crème de la crème of the financial world.  In other words, the most popular girl on Wall St.   

According to Greg Smith, a recently resigned Executive Director at Goldman Sachs, the firm apparently has the same feelings toward its clients that the popular girls at school have toward the less popular.   

In Mr. Smith’s New York Times Editorial titled, “Why I am leaving Goldman Sachs” he has this to say: 

It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as “muppets,” sometimes over internal e-mail. 

Muppets?  A fitting name for the clients that provide your revenue?  Not to mention the part about ripping them off.   

Sadly my friends I am not shocked.   

“Not shocked by one of the biggest and best known institutions referring to their customers as muppets and apparently not putting their interests first!  You sir, have no shame.”, charges the peanut gallery.   

No we are not shocked at all.  It’s actually a very common occurrence amongst organizations that succumb to the complacency of their own success.   

Let’s be candid, to advance in money and power within a large organization requires a person to fulfill various internal requirements.   

This phenomenon is sometimes called “Face to the CEO/Partner and backside to the client.”  Some large organizations often make the mistake of judging their people by such metrics as billable hours, professional certifications acquired, etc. that have little to do with helping the client/customer.   

If this behavior is allowed to continue it usually results in the outright derision towards clients that Mr. Smith describes above.  Those that have experienced the indifference of these misguided organizations are familiar with the answers to the following simple questions: 

  • Can you really say that you, as the client, are the firm’s number one priority?
  • When working with the senior manager or junior partner are you, the client, “his reason for being” or does he have other priorities and incentives he is concerned with?
  • If he had to choose between submitting a better metric to the senior partner or making your business better, which would he choose?
  • When they go back to the office are they discussing how they can better serve you or are they bragging about how they just bagged another sale or another slew of billable hours from the “muppet?” 

We all know the answers here.  All too often, the client is simply a tool to advance the career of the firm’s employees.  

Its comical that business school students study and observe the fact that time and time again, smaller firms are much more dynamic, attentive, responsive and much more honest with their clients.   

Quite simply, you the client, ARE their reason for being.  There are few internal metrics to track, no detached senior partner demanding adherence to internal targets and everyone in the firm has a personal stake in your success.   

But back to the travails of pre middle school.   

“So Dad, basically what you are saying is that it’s better to have someone as a friend  that really knows and cares about me?” 

“If you can find someone like that..hold onto them”, I replied softly.  


Have a great week,  


Michael Bechara, CPA

Managing Director

Granite Consulting Group Inc.


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