There are some movies that give great business advice. And there are some movies that give, shall we say, questionable advice for the sake of advancing the plot. If you’ve been taking your business advice from movies, you’re probably already in rough shape. But if you’ve been taking guidance from these quotes in particular, then you’re really in trouble. Here are some of the worst pieces of business advice from movies.
1. Wall Street (1987)
“The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.” -Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas)
Wall Street is the classic movie about business and investing. But while some of the advice fits perfectly with the story line of the film, a lot of it doesn’t necessarily work in the real world. Everyone knows Gekko’s “Greed is good” speech, but looking at the last few years in investing news, it’s clear that greed, while necessary for a functioning capitalist system, can still do a lot of damage.
Let’s take a look at AIG just a few years ago to illustrate this point. After the “great September bailout”, AIG execs seemed to be driven by an insatiable greed. The week after the September bailout, AP reported that AIG executives traveled to California for a decadent company retreat which cost a reported $444,000 and featured spa treatments and golf outings. Then on the 17th of October, AP reported that AIG executives spent $86,000 on a hunting trip in England. News of this spending spree came just days after AIG received an additional $37.8 billion loan from the Federal Reserve, on top of a previous $85 billion emergency loan given to them the month before.
Is greed good? I’d say, like all good things, it is only good in moderation.
2. Office Space (1999)
“Michael, we don’t have a lot of time on this earth! We weren’t meant to spend it this way. Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about about mission statements.” -Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston)
While this may be a valid point, this conversation ultimately leads to Peter and his friends stealing over $300,000 from the company they work for. And while we were not designed to stare at computers all day, that doesn’t mean that embezzling money is a good way to get around that draining business requirement.
3. The Godfather (1972)
“It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.” – Michael Corleone (Al Pacino)
Business is always personal. It is the decisions of people that direct the paths of companies, and it is always people who make the mistakes attributed to a specific company. It’s important to make decisions based on what’s best for the company, and not just what’s best for you, but if you’re going to take the advice from Michael Corleone, make sure you keep the other side of the coin in mind. There is no business without people, and can be no people without businesses to support them.
All that being said, let’s not forget what happens to Sonny.
4. Working Girl (1988)
“You can bend the rules plenty once you get to the top, but not while you’re trying to get there.” -Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith)
Some of the most successful entrepreneurs in recent memory made their millions by being innovative and bending the rules. If Mark Zuckerberg had tried to make his fortune “the traditional way”, would he have had such a high net worth so early in his life?
Sometimes, bending the rules can backfire. But thinking outside the box and pursuing an entirely new business concept can be what sets you apart from the pack. So feel free to bend the rules on your climb to the top. As she says later in the film, “I’m not gonna spend the rest of my life working my ass off and getting nowhere just because I followed rules that I had nothing to do with setting up, OK?”
5. How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967)
“I realize that I’m the president of this company, the man that’s responsible for everything that goes on here. So, I want to state, right now, that anything that happened is not my fault.” -J. B. Biggley (Rudy Vallee)
Personal responsibility is what keeps corporations successful, honest, and in touch with their shareholders. The higher up you get in the corporate food chain, the more important it is to stay in touch with that need to be personally responsible for your work. Sure, when something goes wrong, you will have to take the heat. But if something goes extremely well, don’t you want to make sure you get full credit? You can’t have it both ways, you know, so you’ve got to take responsibility for what happens on your watch.
Oh, and a word to the wise: it’s probably not the best idea to take business cues from anyone in a musical.