Saturday, 21 August 2004

Conniving, Cheating Executives

REALITY SHOW. There seems to be no satisfying the appetite for so-called “Reality TV.”

With its humble beginnings in the live “cops and robbers” shows which catered to those with the kicks for thrills and speed, the genre has branched out into all varieties of programs, with one to suit every taste and preference.

Voyeuristic lawyer types have “Court TV.” “Wife Swap” is there for those who wish to see the goings-on in an everyday household. And couch potato adventurers revel in the challenges of “Survivor.”

TV producers have been quick to capitalize on this new-found taste for real-time television, with new and more novel shows being produced all the time.

One fairly recent addition to the offering is “The Apprentice,” a show that purports to portray the goings-on in the search for a successful businessman and entrepreneur.

Hosted by real-life tycoon Donald Trump, the participants—composed of career people, recent MBA graduates etc.—go through various decision-making exercises, board meetings, and deliberations with Donald Trump judging their performances. Each episode, one contestant is expelled until an eventual winner emerges at the end of the show.

No doubt it makes for good television.

Machieavellian machinations are clearly not alien to business and corporate life, and this show only highlights the fact that all is not fair in love, war and business.

The fact that some real-life executives connive, cheat and steal their way to the top is not big news, and in fact is taken for granted. However, putting it on show has the effect of reinforcing the belief that it is the only route to the top.

But just as it is admitted that some Hollywood aspirants are reported to be sleeping their way to success, it does not mean that all actors and actresses are compelled to have intimate relations with their producers and directors in order to succeed.

Business does need a fair amount of bravado, especially in its early stages. Richard Branson’s Virgin Group is perhaps one of the better examples of this.

Starting with the music business, Virgin now offers everything from trains, airline services and mobile phones, taking advantage of risky but profitable niche opportunities and outmaneuvering their larger competitors for a lucrative share of the market.

The problem is that the line between calculated risk-taking and outright foul play is becoming blurred all the time. Major American corporations have pushed the envelope too far out, with resulting disastrous consequences for investors, employees and the larger economy.

This is where I take issue with “The Apprentice” and all its spin-offs, in their portrayal of business success.

There is no denying the fact that the road to the top is littered with the bodies of those who are less astute and perhaps even those too rule-bound. Every successful CEO— and Donald Trump himself is the perfect example of this—has at some point laid all their cards on the table for that “one-throw, one-chance” shot at total success or abject failure.

What is not shown, however, is the immense responsibility that comes with being a caretaker for the interests of investors and stakeholders—an obligation sadly all too often forgotten as they chart their own personal course to the top.

Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, August 21, 2004 (

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