19 September 2010 0 Comments

Creating Wall Street

Wall Street“Stop going for the easy buck and produce something with your life.

Create, instead of living off the buying and selling of others.”

So ends the 1987 Oliver Stone film “Wall Street.”  The sequel, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” (also directed by Stone), opens on Friday.

This quote captures an important but often overlooked theme in the original film. Carl Fox (played by Martin Sheen) is mentoring his son Buddy Fox (played by real-life son Charlie Sheen) even as he drives his son to the trial where he will likely be convicted of a series of white-collar crimes (insider trading, money laundering, etc.).

Carl Fox knows there are basically two ways to make money:

Create value

or take it from others.

How is value created?

Usually it occurs when things of lesser independent value are combined in such a way that they create something worth more.

  • An IPod is worth much more than the metal and plastic of its component parts;
  • A chef combines ingredients to create a more valuable meal;
  • The artist makes something of beauty from canvass and paint or clay;
  • Retail merchandise is purchased in bulk and distributed to the consumer in a more usable manner;
How is value destroyed?

Things of greater value can be dismantled or ruined, sometimes intentionally, but more often through ignorance or neglect.

  • Produce rots before it is sold;
  • Political capital earned through years of public service disappears overnight due to unethical behavior;
  • An experienced team loses a crucial player with critical skills or knowledge;
  • Relationships with customers, suppliers or strategic partners die when not nurtured;

In the original movie, Buddy Fox works for his idol, Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas), who teaches him the fine art of taking value from others. Buddy doesn’t realize how destructive this is until he discovers that Gekko plans to dismantle Blue Star Airlines, where his father built his career. Buddy has a change of heart and turns his teacher’s tactics against him, enlisting the help of Gekko’s nemesis to scrub the deal and ultimately land Gekko in prison. The new film picks up when Gekko is released from prison 25 years later.

Real-life examples of this win-lose approach to gaining wealth are easy to find. It seems like a zero sum game, but when greed is in charge, more often total value is destroyed.

In this period of economic recovery, people are making a buck any way they can. Some appear to foster economic growth but are actually destroying value even as they line their pockets. The difference is a matter of perspective. As individuals (or individual organizations), we can choose to be indifferent about how our actions impact others. Yet, in the end, we all swim in the same economic pond.

I don’t know what themes will emerge in the latest Wall Street film. I trust that Oliver Stone heeded the advice of his character Carl Fox and created something of great value.

 What About You?

  • How has your business or organization created value?
  • Does the broader perspective of the whole economy influence your decisions?
  • Are you leading in a way that creates value or destroys it?

 Leave a Reply below to share your story.

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