What a Character: 5 Movie Roles Risk Leaders Run Into in the Corporate World

A risk leader can be described as a corporate diplomat, one who seeks to unite diverse areas of the enterprise to help drive the business towards its goals by improving how risks are discussed in decision-making situations. Along the risk management journey, there are countless stops to meet and interact with key decision-makers and subject matter experts. This article is a fun exercise in attempting to match film characters with those stakeholders you may run into within the offices, meeting rooms, and Zoom calls required to truly create an environment of risk orchestration within the organization. Let’s look at a diverse group of five movie characters that risk leaders could run into during their careers.

*Some of the embedded videos below include pottymouth language, view at your own discretion

Grady Fuson (Moneyball, 2011)

I am not even a baseball fan in the slightest but Moneyball is a great movie about adapting to your environment and using creative methods to achieve success. The film centers on the real-life Billy Beane, a once-promising young star that failed to live up to expectations who is now the general manager of the Oakland A’s, a small-market team with a limited budget and some star players hitting the exit for major paydays with bigger clubs. At a meeting with the Cleveland Indians, he stumbles upon a young Yale grad who is using statistical analysis to help scout players based on quantitative data over gut intuition, the secret sauce baseball scouts had been using since the early days. The symbolism of the old school style of using gut intuition to scout “the next best thing” is embodied in the character (and real-life scout) Grady Fuson.

Once Billy embraces the use of statistical analysis to build his roster, overruling his long-tenured scouts in the process, the friction starts to turn into a smoldering fire. The old school guys are not a fan of numbers and algorithms replacing decades of eyeballs watching prospects and trying to forecast their future potential. I am sure we have and are still dealing with these types of individuals in our own companies, risk leaders especially. Sometimes it is just too difficult to let go of the old way of doing things, in the end change activates loss aversion whereby a new way of doing things always result in a loss of the way things used to be. In the end, risk leaders must turn the Gradys of their organizations into adopters of using objective data to support their gut intuition which helps remove cognitive bias traps and leads to more intelligent risk taking. A win, win for all.

Miranda Priestly (Devil Wears Prada, 2006)

The Devil Wears Prada is a cult classic film, I have seen it so many times but if it is on I will definitely tune in. Miranda Priestly is the goddess of fashion in this film, who commands respect from all who work for her, even her new assistant played by Anne Hathaway. Like Gust below, she takes no shit and could stop a foreign war with her simple gaze; piercing eyes that lack emotion and empathy for anyone they set their sights on. Most risk leaders have either worked with this type of leadership style or will at some point in their career. Those that feed on fear the second they smell it, and turn others’ weakness into leverage to be used at their own discretion.

Miranda Priestly represents strength & confidence but also an unfortunate lack of emotional intelligence that creates distance between herself as a leader and those that work around her. However, leaders with this type of prowess are so focused on creating success that the other human-related factors can be seen as simply noise. Risk leaders must know that to gain a Miranda Priestley’s trust they must always be focused, prepared, and well educated on whatever information or data they are speaking on. There is little room for error as one slight mess up or error could erode precious trust that is needed to tap into the powerful mind of these types of authoritarian leaders. Tread lightly but show no fear, these leaders are attracted to confidence and those who can dish it out just like they can. If you want a great example of the power of Miranda Priestley check out this nail-biting scene below, how she commands the room with such a calm voice is mesmerizing.

Tom Callahan (Tommy Boy, 1995)

Who does not love Tommy Boy? Pure comedic Tomfoolery wrapped in a feel good story. Tom “Tommy” Callahan played by the late laugh factory Chris Farley, is a spoiled party boy that is the son of an auto manufacturing family in Ohio. Once his father goes down with a heart attack, he is thrust into a sink-or-swim situation to save the company from financial ruin. Right from the start, the film highlights how special this company is to both the Callahan family and the employees who are like family. It is a hilarious joyride that shows how a leader will go to any lengths to save the jobs of his employees, no matter the challenges and obstacles in the way.

These types of executives are a risk leaders dream as they have such a deep trust and connection with their employees top-down commitment to creating a more risk intelligent organization has a strong support that helps inject risk-based decision making inside the company culture. Also, employees that feel like family are happier and lead to maximized performance that can help take the business beyond simply meeting its objectives but exceeding them. Peter Drucker wisely said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”, and leaders that can build a strong, sustainable culture provide the perfect garden for risk management methodologies to grow and flourish across the enterprise.

Gust Avrakrotos (Charlie Wilson’s War, 2007)

If Gust Avrakotos was a kitchen utensil it would certainly be a serrated knife. Rigid on the edges, unable to be sharpened, and extremely effective for its specific purpose. Charlie Wilson’s War, a film based on true events, follows Gust and U.S. Senator Charlie Wilson’s actions leading to Operation Cyclone, a successful mission to support the Afghan mujahideen to fight back against the Soviets who invaded their land beginning in 1979. Gust, played in the film by the late & incredible Phillip Seymour Hoffman, was once referred to as a “blue collar James Bond” which is quite fitting if you see the film, as his candor and brash personality are combined with his heightened intelligence that makes him an incredible asset to work within the shadows on behalf of the U.S. government.

The thing is the world needs people like Gust, someone who tells it like it is and does not hold back their thoughts. However, in the diplomatic sport of risk management, these characters can ruffle some feathers and cause waves in the organizational pond that push away needed collaboration instead of bringing it to the forefront. Corporations are filled with political games that must be played as a means to an end sometimes, to keep everyone happy and on course moving towards what is important. Throw the politics aside, the Gust of the organization should always be listened to as they possess a wealth of knowledge, insight, and experience that can give risk leaders a straightforward assessment on what is really going down within the walls of the business. Check out the scene below, it is simply a masterpiece, but never try this at work, unless it is your last day.

Yuri Orlov (Lord of War, 2005)

Lord of War is still one of my favorite films and was my first introduction to Jared Leto who is both a phenomenal actor and the frontman for 30 Seconds to Mars, an emo band whose tunes we would blast at the frat house in the late 2000’s while sipping cheap brews and biting down on a fresh parley itching to be burned. The main character is Yuri Orlov, a one-time nobody from an immigrant family who wants to escape his life in Brighton Beach, NYC where he feels stuck and finds the perfect way out…becoming an arms dealer. He uses his family Soviet Union connections to become a major arms player on the world stage which brings him riches, women, and unfortunately an adequate amount of problems (queue Biggie & Puff). Money and power are his drugs and he will do anything to obtain his next fix as the high is never enough and something he is always chasing.

There is no doubt anyone who has worked in corporate America has shared a building with one or many Yuris whose only goal is to get ahead regardless of how it is done or who gets hurt along the way. Toxic individuals who erode the culture of an organization but are seen by upper management as god-like figures as they bring so much value to the organization (mainly just money), regardless of all the issues that come along with it. Push morals to the side it’s time to make some money! Risk leaders must be weary of these individuals as their areas of domain can be a hotbed for future problems that management may try to avoid being looked at, to not disrupt the revenue generators within. Better to keep these characters on your radar, nobody wants to be the risk exec for the next Enron.

Hollywood provides us with some unique characters that may resemble colleagues and leaders we see from time to time along the way. This blog is simply a feeble attempt to provide some humorous and intriguing examples from cinema that can jump off the silver screen and into the hallways of offices anywhere. What other characters have you watched on the tube that would be a good addition to this rowdy gang? Until next time…


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