Profs Name Favorite Movies For MBAs

Pursuit of Happyness

The Story: Tax liens. Soured marriages. Evictions. Jail. Homelessness.  You’d be hard-pressed to find those topics broached anywhere in the traditional MBA curricula. However, they were all hurdles overcome by Chris Gardener, a struggling medical device salesperson who eventually founded his own brokerage firm and made millions. Starring Will Smith, the movie explores the importance of perseverance and pluck. How rough was Gardner’s life? By day, he pitched stocks as an unpaid intern. By night, he lived with his five year-old son in homeless shelters and transit station bathrooms. Eventually, Gardner outworked his peers to land a coveted full-time broker job that puts him on the path to a happier life.

Professors Say: “Success is never easy to attain. Qualities such as resiliency, persuasion, humility and listening skills are essential for any individual’s success.”

–  Aravind Chandrasekeran, Ohio State (Fisher)

The Pursuit of Happyness and the importance of perseverance is perfectly captured by this quote in the movie” “You got a dream… You gotta protect it. People can’t do somethin’ themselves, they wanna tell you you can’t do it. If you want somethin’, go get it. Period.”

– Sebastian Kortmann, Amsterdam Business School

“I think MBA students would appreciate its messages about perseverance in the face of setbacks and the importance of human connection in business.”

– Ruben Mancha, Babson College


Social Network

The Story: “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.” That was the tagline to the dramatization of Mark Zuckerberg’s rise from precocious misfit to billionaire visionary. Just don’t expect a breezy depiction of startup life. In this interpretation, Facebook didn’t start as a means to connect the world, but a platform to rank co-eds. Databases were hacked, confidences betrayed, and ideas stolen. Between coding binges, there were accounts frozen, contracts breached, depositions given, and iron-clad non-disclosure agreements reached. It was the seamy sausage-making process at its worst. In the end, no one came out pure, yet few could be labeled as antagonists (though the entitled Winklevoss twins and the gutless Sean Parker couldn’t have been thrilled about their depictions). At its heart, The Social Network revolves around the dissolution of Zuckerberg’s friendship with Eduard Saverin. In the end, viewers left theaters asking themselves the question that haunts so many entrepreneurs: ‘Should you remain loyal to your co-founders or cut ties when they become overmatched liabilities?’

Professor says: The Social Network is an impeccably directed business-theme movie with excellent performances, which will motivate the next generation of entrepreneurs. In today’s world, not only techies, but everybody can develop an idea for a platform business and builds the next empire. So it’s really not about who has the idea, but who can execute it and who can develop such a digital platform that filled with community and content. When you have a great product, money finds you.”

– Ting Li, Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University


The Founder

The Story: Think of The Founder as The Social Network set under Eisenhower-era golden arches. Meet Ray Kroc, a traveling salesman who stumbles on the find of a lifetime: a California restaurant with heavenly food, welcoming décor, and swift service. Even better: the owners are oblivious to the game-changing potential of their operation. The Founder is another tale of the tension between staying small or going big — and the Herculean task inherent to replicating a formula that consistently produces high quality products while fostering a far-flung culture that grooms talented managers. Even more, it is a look at the changing dynamics of American commerce, where variables like brand name and real estate carry as much value as the products and services themselves.

Professor Says: “I recently watched The Founder (2016), which chronicles the origins of McDonald’s. My main takeaways from the film were (1) the importance of understanding customer needs prior to developing products or solutions; (2) the hustle and tenacity required to grow a business; and (3) the shady people you might have to deal with along the way.”

– Ethan Pancer, Saint Mary’s University


The Godfather

The Story: “It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.”

Yeah, just try telling that to any startup founder or third generation family business owner. For Don and Michael Corleone, business naturally creates rifts and dissension. The key is communication and compromise, listening to concerns and offering options that enable potential rivals to save face and fatten their wallets. At the same time, the Corleones draw lines, such as refusing to sell drugs in the neighborhoods they control. Why? They recognize that power really stems from relationship-building and customer service. Whether they’re protecting vulnerable store owners or paying off judges, legislators, and lawmen, staying low key is critical to sustaining buy-in, particularly with stakeholders who may be uncomfortable with the more odious elements of their business. That said, they also understand the need to make a statement when an “offer they can’t refuse” is rebuffed. When all else fails, the Corleones know to go after dissenters where it really hurts (like, say, beheading a prized stallion).

Professors Say: “Does The Godfather count? MBA students can learn leadership in the face of adversity from this movie, and definitely how not to “motivate” stakeholders.”

–  Szu-Chi Huang, Stanford Graduate School of Business

The Godfather…..moral conscious should not be ignored just in the name of “business” (the Godfather knew very well that one cannot murder someone when moral conscious overrules business incentives).”

– Mohammad Saifur Rahman, Purdue University (Krannert)

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