Business Ethics: Why Greg Smith Left Goldman Sachs (Upper-Intermediate)

Download the Business Ethics ESL lesson plan here: GoldmanSachs-Smith-UppIntermediate-29032012.doc

Business Ethics ESL Lesson Plan: Upper-Intermediate

A lesson on ethics in finance

Business Ethics ESL Lesson Plan: Warm-up (Pair Work)

1) What’s the best way to invest for your future?
2) What companies do you feel overcharge or abuse their customers?
3) What is the purpose of a corporation or financial institution?
4) Have you ever quit a job for ethical reasons?
5) What are the values of the company you work for?

Reading: Why Greg Smith Left Goldman Sachs (March, 2012)

Greg Smith has created a significant buzz on Wall Street. When he resigned on March 14th as an executive director at Goldman Sachs, one of the world’s largest investment banks, he decided to publish his resignation letter in the New York Times. Needless to say, he has definitely burned his bridges with his former employer.
After 12 years at Goldman Sachs, Smith leaves an environment that he describes as “toxic” and “destructive”. He writes:
“To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money. Goldman Sachs is one of the world’s largest and most important investment banks and it is too integral to global finance to continue to act this way. The firm has veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.”
According to Smith, the company’s mission today is to get clients to trade whatever brings the biggest profit to Goldman. Smith writes that he was astounded by “how little senior management gets a basic truth: If clients don’t trust you they will eventually stop doing business with you. It doesn’t matter how smart you are.” His letter goes on to describe a culture of greed in which colleagues bragged about ripping off clients, whom directors refer to as “muppets.”
Smith calls for a change in the company’s business culture. He hopes his letter “can be a wake-up call to the board of directors. Make the client the focal point of your business again. Without clients you will not make money. In fact, you will not exist.” [287 words]

Business Ethics ESL Lesson Plan: Comprehension & Follow-Up Questions

1)    What was different about how Greg Smith resigned?
2)    Why did he decide to resign?
3)    Who are ‘muppets’?
4)    What effect does Smith hope his letter will have?
5)    Your Opinion: Do you commend Greg Smith for how he resigned?
6)    Your Opinion: What surprised you about the article?
1 – He resigned publicly. He published his letter in a major newspaper.
2- He resigned because of a shift in the company culture away from protecting client interests towards pursing profits at the expense of the clients.
3 – The muppets, in this situation, are the clients. Smith’s claims his coworkers referred to clients as muppets, most likely because of the way they can manipulate them.
4 – He hopes it will make the board of directors wake up, and decide to improve the culture of the business by making it client-focused once again.
5 – …
6 – …

Business Ethics ESL Lesson Plan: Vocabulary Matching

Match the words with their meaning as used in the news lesson.
burn your bridges
sideline (verb)
veer (verb)
in good conscience
identify with sb/sth
brag (verb)
rip sb off (phr. verb)
focal point
  • buzz – the sound of activity and discussion
  • burn your bridges – destroy a relationship so you cannot return somewhere
  • toxic – poisonous
  • sideline – make sth less important; put aside
  • integral – essential; vital
  • veer – change direction suddenly; sweve
  • in good conscience – honestly
  • identify with sb/sth – share the same feelings/values as sb/sth
  • astounded – amazed; surprised
  • brag – talk too proudly about sth you did; boast
  • rip sb off – cheat sb by making them pay too much
  • focal point – the center of interest or activity

Business Ethics ESL Lesson Plan: Connect the below idea(s) to make a sentence.

government / uprising
burn his bridges / publish
toxic / environment
sideline / interests
integral / business
car / veer
in good conscience / rip off
identify with / values
brag / profit
focal point / business

Business Ethics ESL Lesson Plan: Dissatisfied Employees

What can companies do to prevent dissatisfied or angry employees from making their feelings public?

Business Ethics ESL Lesson Plan:  Role-Play (Pair Work)

Student A: It’s March 13th. Your friend, Greg Smith, tells you he plans to resign tomorrow. You don’t believe he should. Try to think of reasons why he shouldn’t. (Possible reasons: 1) money 2) businesses are all the same 3) if he wants to make a difference, then stay and fix the problem, etc.)

Student B: It’s March 13th. Tomorrow, you plan to quit your job. Tell your friend (Student A), about your plan to resign and also post your resignation letter publicly.

Business Ethics ESL Lesson Plan: Thrasymachus’ Challenge

In Plato’s The Republic, Thrasymachus challenges Socrates to tell him why it is better in life to be just. Thrasymachus argues that it is not only more profitable to be unjust and immoral but also more rational to be so. He argues that the unjust life is more pleasant and offers more rewards. The life of the moral man, however, is wretched and unhappy. How would you respond to Thrasymachus’ challenge?

Business Ethics ESL Lesson Plan: Situations

Discuss the below situations with a partner. Share your ideas with the class when finished.
1. If you are overworked and underpaid, is it okay to conduct personal business on company time?
2. If you and two other members of a five-person team did all the work on a project, would you tell management about this? Is it okay to put the other co-workers in a negative light?

Business Ethics ESL Lesson Plan: Mission, Vision, and Values (Optional Pair Work)

Combine you and your partner’s last names to make the name of a financial institution. Next, draw up a basic company mission statement that outlines its core values.

Business Ethics ESL Lesson Plan: Discussion Questions

1) Why should companies value anything other than their own profits?
2) What are the pros and cons of exit interviews?
3) What consequences do you think await Greg Smith?
4) Whistle-blowing: Is Gregory Smith a whistle-blower?
5) Banking: Would banking services improve if banks were public?
6) How can the business culture described by Smith be changed?

Business Ethics ESL Lesson plan copyright Matthew Barton of

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5 comments on “Business Ethics: Why Greg Smith Left Goldman Sachs (Upper-Intermediate)

  1. jose (Posted on 7-6-2012 at 05:22) Reply

    hey man, I just wanted to thank you for some of the material you’ve provided. You probably don’t hear it enough, so I’ll say it again, Thanks.

  2. Larry (Posted on 10-11-2012 at 07:03) Reply

    Good job! I had read about Mr. Smith’s resignation in a previous article. Good topic!

  3. Anja (Posted on 1-28-2016 at 09:21) Reply

    Thanks so much for these lesson plans, my upper intermediate students adore them and they have just the right balance between, reading, grammar, understanding and listening skills.

  4. Saghi (Posted on 8-1-2016 at 00:48) Reply

    You’ve been a great help in several aspects, can’t thank you enough.

  5. Teachwithheart (Posted on 11-6-2019 at 03:59) Reply

    Thank you so much for the lessons that you planned with too much dexterity. It covers all aspects that one needs to teach Business English student. I am very choosy and always look for more but your lessons are quite comprehensive. I am all your follower now.

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