Hooray for Hollywood: Risk Management Faves

In the spirit of the upcoming Annual Academy Awards, and as a public service to the banking industry titans of Wall Street who presided over what Risk Management has called the colossal risk management failure of the financial sector, we at Enterprise Man are proud to unveil our AQ/PQ “picks” for the twenty best (or worst) examples of risk management in film history.

We welcome your comments, your suggestions, and even your heated arguments. Please feel free to prepare your letters to the editor as we proceed through our list in chronological order.

The Envelope, Please …

The Great Train Robbery (1903). The first modern story in film history, bankrolled by Thomas Edison himself, was a twelve minute video about an attack on a “money car.” Risk managers, take note of the brave attempts of the employees to comply with the railroad’s requirements for information and communication during times of crisis!

The Sheik (1921). The first great love story in film history also featured the first tragic business culture clash, as Rudolph Valentino’s Arab Sheik comes face-to-face with Western womanhood. Luckily, the French soon arrive to defuse the tension with tactful diplomacy. Merci beaucoup!

Safety Last (1923). The film title alone is sufficient to make a risk manager cringe! The same can be said for the iconic image of Harold Lloyd’s department store clerk dangling from a giant clock on the side of a Los Angeles skyscraper; who on earth forgot to engage the window locks?

King Kong (1933). Can some one please check those giant ankle cuffs (at least once) before the paparazzi swarm the giant, resentful man-killing creature with their blinding flash cameras? Is that too much for a risk manager to ask?

Swing Time (1936). Over 70 years before President Obama encourages Americans to “pick ourselves up (and) dust ourselves off” in his inaugural speech, dance instructor Ginger Rogers sings the same lines of encouragement to a seemingly inept new dance student named Fred Astaire. Clearly, the admissions department fails to detect his natural ability; why is he in a remedial class?

Modern Times (1936)
. Charlie Chaplin defies the risk managers of his own movie studio by making the world’s last great silent film in an era of musical comedy. This counter-programming tour-de-force is a non-stop parade of nightmarish business practices, including video security cameras in employee bathrooms and an Automatic Feeding Machine run amok.

Casablanca (1942). Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman prevent the impending Nazi theft of their inventory of fine French champagne by drinking it all as rapidly as possible. To make matters worse, they fail to record the appropriate asset write-offs before fleeing to Morocco.

Double Indemnity (1944). The greatest insurance scam in film history features the complicit involvement of Fred MacMurray’s lovestruck insurance agent. Unfortunately for the insurance company, claims investigator Edward G. Robinson is more interested in imbibing three olive martinis than in investigating employee fraud.

It’s A Wonderful Life (1946). Paying off depositors with honeymoon vacation money is an early red flag. Entrusting the most consistently inebriated man in town with large sums of cash is another no-no. Urban planners and macro-economists, though, enjoy noting that the rollicking town of sin in George Bailey’s nightmare would have likely been strongly positioned to survive the subsequent implosion of America’s industrial base.

Singin’ In The Rain (1952). Hollywood’s first film about the perils of lip synching presages the era of karaoke and Ashlee Simpson. Fortunately, Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds find a happer ending than fans of live music do today.

The Apartment (1960). Fred Macmurray, the only double honoree on our list, confronts Jack Lemmon with the most blatant case of employee harrassment in the history of film. And yet, in true Hollywood fashion, the little guy ends up with the beautiful girl.

Yellow Submarine (1968). The good citizens of Pepperland may not have been able to stop a hostile take-over by the Blue Meanies, but they demonstrate a helluva risk response capability by traveling to Liverpool and enlisting the aid of the Beatles …. and the little Nowhere Man as well!

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Two honorees in one year! 1968 was a terrible year in world history, but a great one for films with risk management themes. Here we find the first great Hollywood story of a computer virus from hell, one that creates a subtle public relations crisis for IBM.

The Godfather II (1974). “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” This tale of organized crime provides the business world with a parable of an organization with a terribly dysfunctional corporate culture and a “tone at the top” that could use a fair amount of team building activity.

Network (1976). A media network executive decides to eliminate a character on a television show by staging his assassination … in front of a live studio audience … with real bullets. Somehow, the script item slips past the sensors.

The Secret Of My Success (1987). Michael J. Fox rises from mail room assistant to chief executive officer by flirting with the boss’s wife and acting, well, incredibly precocious. The most distressing aspect of the film, from a risk management perspective, is the obvious message that his character is far better prepared to lead the firm than any of the oblivious senior officers or board members.

Titanic (1997). Perhaps the greatest example of poor risk management in film history is tragically based on the true story of the White Star line’s decision to furnish an ocean liner with 1,178 lifeboat seats for 3,547 people. Amazingly, the corporation survives their horrendous blunder and remains in business for over twenty years until merging with a rival line during the Great Depression.

The Truman Show (1998). Jim Carrey appears in an unusual serio-comic role as an insurance salesman who finds his life at the center of a wildly successful television reality show. Once again, though, the network bureaucrats goof by failing to obtain a liability waiver signature from Carrey. Come to think of it, the bureaucrats commit a more fundamental error; they neglect to inform Carrey that he is on television at all!

Sideways (2004). A tale of love and misery in the Napa Valley wine country of northern California, this sleeper hit features an extremely colorful example of a customer relationship dispute in a wine tasting facility, as well as a classic line that depresses merlot aficionados everywhere.

There Will Be Blood (2007). Daniel Day-Lewis portrays a violently psychotic oil executive whose arch-nemesis waits far too long before finalizing a real estate transaction. The film also depicts, in fairly graphic terms, why children and others should not be allowed to tour production sites without wearing protective goggles and hard hats.