Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Persecuted "movie" Minority

One of the things that I hate about the modern cinema is the relative frequency with which businessmen play the role of villian in movies. From Devlin MacGregor Pharmaceuticals in The Fugitive, Cyberdyne Systems in The Terminator series, Biocyte Pharmaceuticals in Mission Impossible II, Gordon Gecko in Wall Street or the corporate mainframe in I, Robot (the corporate CEO headed the list of suspects until he was murdered), it seems Hollywood has a love affair portraying business as inherently unethical.

I always thought this was disproportionate emphasis on business as "the bad guy", and now I have some data. From a Wall Street Journal, (July 14, 2006) article entitled "TV's Killer Capitalists",
According to a study published last month by the Business & Media Institute, in the world of TV entertainment, "businessmen [are] a greater threat to society than terrorists, gangs or the mob."

The study, titled "Bad Company," looked at the top 12 TV dramas during May and November in 2005, ranging from crime shows like "CSI" to the goofy "Desperate Housewives." Out of 39 episodes that featured business-related plots, the study found, 77% advanced a negative view of the world of commerce and its practitioners.

On the various "Law & Order" shows, for instance, almost 50% of felonies -- mostly murders -- were committed by businessmen. In almost all of the primetime programs, when private-sector protagonists showed up, they were usually doing something unethical, cruel or downright criminal.

Dan Gainor, director of the Business & Media Institute and the study's author, told us that he finds the shows very entertaining. "It's not like I hate the programs," he explains. "I hate the way they're characterizing business.

"Every other special group is concerned about how they are portrayed in the media -- and they should be: It does affect how people perceive them."

Over time, he says, plots that ritually make entrepreneurs the bad guys have a pernicious effect: "This becomes part of our collective worldview. We think all businessmen are somehow scummy. We think you had to lie, cheat or murder to get ahead."

Here, here. The view comes from a philosophical view of businessmen as evil, and business in generall as a grubby endeavor. Even when the evidence is overwhelmingly different.

Friday, July 14, 2006

"Only in America" is right!

"Maybe I shouldn't disagree with the Oracle of Omaha," I interjected, "but I think that the stock [Coca Cola] will take a big hit tomorrow [the day after announcing the resignation of CEO Doug Ivester]."
Unfortunately I was proved to be right as the stock declined about 10%. Warren [Buffet], to his credit, chased me down in Washington the next day to say, "I'm sorry, I was wrong and you were right. You are the new oracle!"
At the next finance committee meeting, when the Coca Cola CFO asked him a complicated financial question, Warren responded by saying, "I don't know, you better ask Paul!"

The "Paul" in this excerpt is Paul F. Oreffice, former CEO and Chairman of the Board of The Dow Chemical Company. The excerpt is from his new autobiography Only in America: From Immigrant to CEO which I just finished. This is a wonderful book, overviewing the extraordinary life of an charismatic industrialist and I heartily recommend it.

Born into a middle class Jewish Italian family in 1930's Italy, Paul's father was persecuted by the Fascists, and his family fled on the last commercial vessel to leave Italy before it entered World War II. Abandoning everything and emmigrating first to Ecuador, and ultimately to the United States, Paul finished college at Purdue and began work at Dow in 1953, ultimately earning the position of CEO, and then Chairman. Having experienced both the best and the worst the world has to offer, Paul succeeded because of his character and upbringing. His experiences sharpened his outlook on life, and allowed him to develop the principles, attitudes and habits that would bring him lasting success. At Dow he was instrumental in transforming a national chemical company into one with a global reach, and innovated the use of some of the financing mechanisms to operate globally. His hard charging, get the job done attitude makes for some interesting stories.

It is the story of Paul's development and his adventurous outlook on life that make this book worth the time. It is a glimpse into the benevolent world of one of America's titans, and into the environment that America offers men who wish to make something of themselves.

I first met Paul Orefice as a young co-op student at Dow (he was the key executive on the Dow recruiting team for his and my alma mater, Purdue University), and he served as an inspiration for me early in my career. You'll understand why when you read this book.

I met him for a second time last month when he signed my copy of Only in America.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


This is my first blog. I've been discussing and studying philosophy and capitalism for some time now, both on the internet and in the "real world". While the banter of a back and forth discussion is energizing, I've been thinking about doing more for a while. And so the concept of this blog started to form in my mind. A place I could put ideas down in whole thoughts, as opposed to responses to others.

I'm an Objectivist, and I wanted to write from that perspective. I also work in industry. As I looked out amonst the various blogs covering topics from Objectivist viewpoints, I noticed that while many wrote now and then on business topics, I didn't see one specifically devoted to celebrating industry, business, the businessman and the conditions which make it and him possible. Thus, I introduce The Crucible & Column.

I am particularly enamoured with factories, and heavy equipment. I used to be involved in the design and construction of chemical plants, and there is still something about a large piece of equipment being lifted into place, that I find fascinating. So the metaphors for the blog are taken from that vein:
  • a crucible: the container used for processing metals at high temperature
  • a distillation column: used for purification of liquids away from their mixtures
I intend the blog to be primarily celebratory with less focus on threats to capitalism, but as yet don't know how that mix will work out. So stay tuned.