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Paul R. Portney

Paul R. Portney

Paul R. Portney is Dean of the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona, where he also holds the Halle Chair in Leadership.

Corporate Villians?

"Patton," "The Great Escape," Hotel Rwanda" and "Sounder" are movies that leap to mind when I think about leadership, from the grandest level in the case of the former to the family level in the case of the latter.

But a slightly different question interests me: Why is it that the only corporate leadership we ever see portrayed in movies is malignant? In ten seconds I came up with "Wall Street," "The China Syndrome," "Erin Brockovich," "Lethal Weapon," "Norma Rae" and any company portrayed in a movie made from a John Grisham novel (to pick an eclectic mix). But real film buffs can easily name thousands of more corporate evildoers without even working up a sweat.

OK, I was born at night, but not last night, so I understand that someone almost always has to be a villain if folks are going to flock to the box office. But must Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey be the only upstanding and likeable businessman to grace the silver screen? Not to sound too much like a cheerleader here, but an awful lot of people are employed in interesting and productive jobs (and have their and their family's health insurance taken care of) by a company that was started by some gutsy entrepreneur at some time.

I'll be the first to admit that in the wake of the subprime mortgage meltdown and the fiasco that has followed it and plagues us all now, this probably isn't the time for any studio to be rushing into production "The Warren Buffet Story." But I wonder if our business leaders would behave a little better in the future if, as kids, they saw more George Baileys and fewer Gordon Gekkos.

By Paul R. Portney

 |  February 25, 2009; 10:33 AM ET
Category:  Pop culture Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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