Monday, January 24, 2011

Working Girl

One of my favorite movies is Working Girl with Melanie Griffith and Harrison Ford. I like the idea of a "rags to riches" movie with a woman for a change and I like to look at Melanie Griffith. Propriety forbids me to detail why I like Melanie but if you get a chance to watch this movie, note the way and how often she licks her lips.

Towards the end of the movie, after it is revealed by her boss that she is a mere secretary causing her to lose not only her job but credit for the big deal she has worked on throughout the movie, the day is saved when she reads about a potential problem with the radio network purchase, Harrison comes to her defense, and she is given the opportunity to explain everything to the owner of the company negotiating to buy the network. When asked why she didn't tell everyone the story of how she first came up with the idea of this big company buying into radio, she said (and I quote)

"You can bend the rules plenty once you get to the top, but not while you're trying to get there. And if you're someone like me, you can't get there without bending the rules."

Is that really true? Do we tend to look the other way when successful people bend the rules, whether they be legal, moral or just the generally accepted guidelines for everyday living? And if so, why?

Certainly, we treat our athletes differently than everyday people. Especially if the person exhibits extraordinary athletic prowess. Right from high school they are accorded special status which can frequently lead to the turning of a blind eye when rules are bent or broken.

Or in the case of high salaried executives who cook the books resulting in a corporation's economic collapse. Is that person punished in the same way as the common criminal who holds up a grocery store. Obviously, I am not condoning armed robbery, but hasn't the executive whose crime results in the unemployment of hundreds of people and the loss of millions of dollars of pensions/IRA money done more harm to society than the guy who steals $300 from the owner of one store? Yet, the thief will spend real, hard time in prison behind bars while the white collar criminal, perhaps after months if not years of judicial posturing might spend some time in a federal penitentiary. Worse, once the blue collar criminal serves his time, his record will make it difficult for him to find meaningful employment, yet some of these CEO's leave one failed corporation only to go to another 7 figure salary at another one.

In the movie, Melanie's character makes the jump to a better job, gets the guy and, at least at first, treats those in the position she left with respect, unlike the way her boss treated her. She has made the most of her opportunity and, with some help from those who already "made it", we are treated to a happy ending.

I still believe that America is the place to be for to experience this kind of "success" story. But I sometimes wonder if more people who have become successful are demonstrating the example of Melanie's original boss rather than her eventual boss.

Do enough people in management and ownership positions realize how many future Melanie Griffiths working the assembly lines and phones lines and counter lines there are who just need that one break? Do they remember that it wasn't that long ago that they were in a similar position and received that chance from a mentor or ex-boss? Pulling up one's bootstraps is a great cliche, but the vast majority of people who have made it, did so with some help in addition to their own hard work. .

Finally, I read an article in the business section of the Phila Inquirer recently. The author was commenting on the news that corporations are currently sitting on literally billions of dollars of cash but are still slow to hire new employees. When the author asked a person of some standing in the business community what advice they would give these companies about jobs and hiring, the answer was that they should continue to focus on returning profits to the investors.

Is this a reflection of most thinking in today's business community? Is this a philosophy that will help hire and encourage future Melanies?

Does a concern for investors and profit rather than the employees or people of the community bend the rules of how we should treat each other?

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