Monthly Archives: February 2008

October Sky

octsky.jpg It is not everyday that Hollywood makes a movie about a young American inspired by Russian achievements. October Sky (1999) is a movie based on the true-life story of four young boys who, inspired by the Russian launch of Sputnik, decide to develop their own rocket. The problem is that the four young boys are neither children of NASA employees nor private school students with unlimited resources, but are small-town residents with very few resources and even fewer supporters. Homer (the main character in the story) and his three friends live in a small mining town where the destiny for people is to work for the coal mines. However, Homer does not want to follow his father to the coal mines and dreams of building a rocket. Homer ultimately achieves his dream and launches a rocket, but not before his loving father becomes the biggest obstacle in his path.

I think what makes October Sky a movie worth watching is that it is based on a true-story. If the movie was fictitious, it would just be another typical Hollywood movie with a feel-good message. But this is a movie based on a real-life story about innovation and determination. It is not about entrepreneurship, but is about innovation, which some consider is the hallmark of entrepreneurs.    

Guru

dbamb.jpg Guru (2007) is a movie from the Indian film industry. It describes the life and success of a young man Gurukant Desai from a little Indian village who starts a small business against everyone’s advice, succeeds against all odds, and goes on to establish India’s largest company. Like all ambitious entrepreneurs, Guru was driven and passionately believed in his dreams. (In fact, the movie begins and ends with Guru recalling his pragmatic father’s advice: “Don’t dream”). The drama in the movie comes from Guru’s interesting relationship with an idealist and committed newspaper editor who makes it his life’s mission to stop the young entrepreneur from manipulating the system. The battle between the dreamy-eyed entrepreneur and the idealist editor was inconclusive, though the stress causes Guru to have a stroke and lose the use of a hard, but does not diminish his passion.

Most international viewers may not realize that the movie Guru is based on the true story of Dhirubhai Ambani, the founder of Reliance Industries and one of the world’s richest people. Though the movie fictionalizes many aspects of Ambani’s life, it does a good job of staying true to the basic story- the rags-to-riches success, the ability to identify and exploit opportunities, building relationships, and his dream to bring Indian business to a world stage. 

I recommend the movie to any audience with interest in entrepreneurship, especially with an interest in entrepreneurship outside of the U.S. (Hollywood movies are generally about US entrepreneur) 

  

Mad Money

 mm.jpg Have you ever wondered what happens to old, used, and worn-out currency bills? Mad Money (2008) is a comedy movie that can help you learn about what the government does with all the used and damaged money.   

The movie is about three female employees of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City who are tempted by all the money being shredded arounded them. They start smuggling soon-to-be-destroyed currency out of the bank, and are so succesful at it they soon accumulate more money than they know what to do with. However, the long hands of the law catch up to them and puts an end to their operation. Of course, in typical Hollywood style, just when you thought you knew how the movie was going to end, there is a surprise twist to the story.

The Efficiency Expert

effexpert.jpg The Efficiency Expert (1992) is a socially-conscious comedy movie set in 1960s Australia. Anthony Hopkins plays Errol Wallace, an efficiency expert who is in the business of helping companies become more efficient. His preferred route towards better efficiency is downsizing and layoffs. The central plot of the movie is about Wallace’s experience with a small shoe factory (Ball Moccassin Factory) that has become a small shadow of what it once was. The company is family-run and all employees are treated like family. The company is in such a bad shape that it has made no money in many years and management has been running the company by selling off assets. Just when Wallace things he has figured out how the company can become profitable again, he learns new lessons from the workers that change his life, his outlook towards business, and the future of the company.    

The movie is interesting. In an era of globalization and corporate restructuring, it reminds us of the human side of doing business. At the same time, it also raises important questions about how to manage workers, and the kind of work environment management should strive for. It would be a good movie for students to watch, except that it is slow and drags at places.

Martha, Inc.

MS Martha, Inc. (2003) is the story of Martha Sterwart, arguably one of the most succesful American women entrepreneurs of our time. The movie takes us to Martha’s childhood, her experiences in the family she grew up in, and her sense of competitiveness. It introduces us to her frustrations, her anxieties, and her failures. But, perhaps more importantly, it shows us her willingness to grab at and leverage every opportunity that came her way. The movie chronicles the rise and fall of Martha Stewart, but it is her rise from being a nobody to being an iconic entrepreneur in the country which most viewers of this movie are interested in (I think).

I don’t know how accurately this movie portrays the real life of Martha Stewart. We know that Hollywood movies, even those made on famous people, take at least some liberties with the truth. I admit that as yet I don’t know how much of the Martha Stewart presented in this movie is fictional and how much of her is real. Of course, if any of you know much about Martha, we would love to hear from you and what you think of the movie  

Barbarians at the Gate

battheg.jpg Do you know what a leveraged buyout is? If your answer is No, don’t feel bad, a majority of other people do not know either. But if you are one of those who want to learn what a leveraged buyout is without having to read boring and dull finance books (my apologies to my friends in finance!) Barbarians at the Gate is the movie you should watch. It is a fictionalized account of the leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco in the 1980s. Many characters and companies in the movie will be familiar to most students of business- F.Ross Johnson, the CEO of Nabisco, Henry Kravitz of KKR, American Express, Shearson Lehman etc.

Oh, but wait a minute! It gets even better- The movie is not just about corporate leveraged buyouts, the kind of business deals most people will never be involved in in their life time. It’s also about salesmanship, new inventions like the smokeless cigarette (yes, you read it right!), corporate raiders, corruption, greed and many other concepts and ideas that business students learn in school. A truly entertaining and informative movie!

North Country

northcountry.jpg The tagline for North Country (2005) is “All she wanted to do was to make a living, Instead she made history”. The history in this case was the first major successful class-action sexual harassment case in the United States – Lois E. Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co. The movie is a fictionalized account of the experiences Jenson had working at the company mines and her legal battle with the company that tolerated and implicitly encouraged the sexual abuse against Jenson and other female employees. In the movie Josie Ames (the fictionalized Lois Jensen) starts working at a mine, the only employment provider in the small Minnesota town where she grew up. However, mining has traditionally been a male-dominated industry, and Josie Ames finds herself fighting against commonly-held ideas her male co-workers and other people in the town had about the role of women in the mines. Josie goes from a single mother trying to make ends meet to becoming a social pariah in the community to winning a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the company. How times change!

Perhaps, the most interesting message the movie had for a business audience was that “a stitch in time saves nine”. There were many opportunities when the top management could have stepped in and taken some action to stop the abuse, but for some reason did not. One law firm gives a five-step plan for management when they find themselves in a similar situation:

 Implement an effective anti-harassment policy.

On receiving a harassment claim, have impartial employees investigate it.

When warranted, take appropriate and prompt corrective action.

Don’t retaliate against the complaining employee.

When confronted with egregious and credible evidence, consider every opportunity for early (and inexpensive) resolution.

I am curious why the top management of Eveleth did not do anything about it. None of the websites present I searched presented the company’s perspective on the whole case.

Anyway, those interested in reading the real story that inspired the movie, click here.