Johannesburg - Greg Smith was a principled and competitive
student, the kind of person whose strong sense of right and wrong probably pushed
him to resign from Goldman Sachs in a scathing letter to an international
newspaper, his former teacher and coach said.
A quiet, unassuming child, the South African first attended
the private Jewish King David’s High School in suburban Johannesburg before
winning a scholarship to Stanford University in the United States.
Smith then joined Goldman Sachs, a workplace he once loved
but described in his resignation letter in the New York Times on Wednesday as
having developed an environment “as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen
“He was a remarkable young man, exceptionally intelligent
with an integrity that is probably unequalled,” Elliot Wolf, the school’s
retired headmaster, told Reuters in an interview.
“An absolutely remarkable man with high principles. He was
an asset to the school in every possible way.”
Wolf, who is now retired after 34 years at the school
including 28 as headmaster, said he remembered Smith well from teaching him
Latin and that he was loved by all because he was polite, unassuming and
The Goldman Sachs banker sat a total of eight exams in his
final year of secondary school in 1996, winning a distinction in every subject,
Wolf said. According to school records, Smith’s subjects included maths,
advanced maths, Hebrew, English, Afrikaans and accounting.
“He was a wonderful young man with the highest principles.
That was already part of his character when he was very, very young,” Wolf
He said he was amazed Smith would take such a stand,
suggesting others would probably bend their ethics to suit a company that was
rewarding them handsomely.
Smith, who worked in equity derivatives, said it had made
him ill at Goldman to hear his colleagues joke about cheating clients.
“Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing
directors refer to their own clients as ’muppets’,” Smith said.
In Britain, “muppet” is slang for a stupid person.
Wolf also recalled Smith as a skilled table tennis player.
Smith, in his 30s, said in his letter one of the proudest moments of his life
was winning the bronze medal at the Maccabiah Games in Israel for table tennis.
Rainer Sztab, chair of the Gauteng Maccabi Table Tennis
Club, where Smith played in South Africa regularly in the 1990s when he was a
teenager, remembered him as an “outstanding kid”.
“He was a stand-up kid, he always did what was right,” Sztab
told Reuters, saying Smith twice played for the South African Maccabi team at
the Maccabiah Games in Israel, as a junior in 1993 and as a senior in 1997.
But he said Smith was never a member of the South African
national table tennis team, contrary to what was stated in his Goldman Sachs
Sztab said Smith was “very bright and really well liked and
“He was very competitive. He was just starting to get the
edge on the top players in Gauteng province,” he added.
Sztab said he was not surprised by the manner of Smith’s
dramatic public resignation from Goldman Sachs.
“He did well to come from South Africa to become a Wall
He said Smith had called him two years ago to say hello
while on a visit to South Africa.
“He said it was going great.”