An (Imagined) Interview with Gordon Gekko
We'd like to see what Barack Obama is going to do for business.
But since I can't get an interview with our new president, I thought maybe I should head into the lion's den, find the most cutthroat man in business. The most beloved, the most feared. A man who knows money like bees know honey.
Who could that possibly be?
That's right. I interviewed Gordon freakin' Gekko.
Or kind of.
You see, Gordon Gekko is quite busy and fictional, so it was hard to get a hold of him. Instead, I took everything he said in Oliver Stone's Wall Street and pieced it together like a real interview. So...technically, Gordon Gekko has, in fact, said all of the following responses.*
He has spoken on economic downturns before, knows quite a bit about business and offers a unique perspective on the economy, as we move from 2008's fourth quarter to 2009's first quarter.
And now, my interview with Gordon Gekko!
[In Mr. Gekko's office, 11:33 AM, a pale, lanky and meek journalist enters a grand office to shake hands with a slick businessman who suspiciously looks a lot like the actor Michael Douglas]
Hi, Mr. Gekko.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me.
What the hell's going on?
I've called your office and spoken with your secretary, Natalie, the last few weeks.
This is the kid who calls me 59 days in a row.
Yes, that would be me.
Ought to be a picture of you in the dictionary under "persistence," kid.
I can assure you that I'm not nearly as creepy as I sound.
So you say. Nice to meet you. Hope you're intelligent.
Thank you. I'll try my best.
So what's on your mind, Kemo Sabe? Why am I listening to you?
Well, I'll get right to it. Last year was not a good year for business. The stock market, the recession, bailout upon bailout--even the porn industry asked for government aid. Is 2009 going to be a better year?
Well, let me clue you in, pal. The ice is melting right underneath your feet.
It's still that bad? Is it getting worse? Or are some taking worse hits than others?
Somebody wins, somebody loses. Money itself isn't lost or made. It's simply transferred from one perception to another, like magic.
Wait, what? Magic?
The illusion has become real. And the more real it becomes, the more desperate they want it. Capitalism at its finest.
But there seems to have been some serious flaws in the system--2008 saw quite a number of financial collapses.
The richest 1 percent of this country owns half of our country's wealth, $5 trillion. One-third of that comes from hard work, two-thirds comes from an inheritance, interest on interest accumulating to widows and idiot sons, and what I do, stock and real estate speculation.
I think those numbers may be somewhat outdated. And that's quite a bleak outlook, even for a cutthroat businessman such as yourself. You're saying that hard work isn't how you got to where you are?
Hey, he's learning, huh?
Really though, what about hard work?
What about it? You work hard?
Well, I'd like to think so.
Where did it get you? My father, he worked like an elephant pushing electrical supplies until he dropped dead at 49 with a heart attack and tax bills. Wake up, will you, pal? If you're not inside, you are outside, OK?
I don't even know what that means actually. And I have to disagree with you. I'd say hard work and good ideas are the two focal points of any good startup. I mean...right?
You got 90 percent of the American public out there with little or no net worth. I create nothing. I own. We make the rules, pal. The news, war, peace, famine, upheaval, the price of a paper clip. We pick that rabbit out of the hat while everyone sits there wondering how the hell we did it. Now, you're not naive enough to think we live in a democracy, are you, buddy? It's the free market. And you're part of it. Yeah, you've got that killer instinct. Stick around, pal. I still got a lot to teach you.
I still don't understand exactly.
Now, you had what it took to get into my office. The real question is whether you have what it takes to stay.
I'm trying here, Mr. Gekko. I really am. And I'd like to stay, but I understand if you'd like to reschedule. It's close to lunch.
Lunch? You gotta be kidding me. Lunch is for wimps.
OK, well, then I'll stay.
What a surprise.
I can leave if you'd like.
Stick around. This could be fun.
OK, but really, I'm trying here, Mr. Gekko. Honest. I just don't know very much about Wall Street.
You're not as smart as I thought you were, buddy boy.
Mr. Gekko, I...
The most valuable commodity I know of is information. Wouldn't you agree?
Yes. Or sort of...
So what do you say we cut to the chase.
Well, I'll just go to the next question. What is good advice for entrepreneurs?
Read Sun Tzu, The Art of War.
And if they aren't that cutthroat?
Roll the dice and play a little Monopoly.
Ah, OK. Next question. A little more serious. Your Bluestar deal never went through. At your first meeting, the union representative for Bluestar Airlines, Carl Fox, said "The only difference between the pyramids and the Empire State Building is the Egyptians didn't allow unions."
Unions are killer.
However, though he did reject your offer, Fox's son Bud was actually the one who set the deal up for you. In fact, when Bluestar's Toni Carpenter asked about your marketing strategy, Bud Fox came up with a three-point plan to save the dying airline.
I got a stockbrother that wants to run an airline.
Yes, but he had some good insight. He said that you need to have strengths in three areas of the growing business: modernizing, advertising and expanding.
And you supported him?
He's got a hell of a career in front of him.
Even though he would later, to borrow a phrase, "sandbag" you?
Well, I'm just wondering how cutthroat you actually are, as you've suggested that emotions should not be tied into business dealings.
Don't upset me here.
I'm not. I'm really, really not trying to do that. I'm really not trying to strike a nerve, but...
All right. Congratulations, buddy. You scored.
No, I don't mean to dig into personal affairs, but are you able to look at Bud Fox as a businessman and not an enemy?
You ever wonder why fund managers can't beat the S&P 500? Because they're sheep and sheep get slaughtered.
Again, that seems a little more cutthroat than our average subscriber would consider himself.
The public's out there throwing darts at a board, sport. I don't throw darts at a board. I bet on sure things.
And I understand that it's the cutthroat approach you have that got you to where you are, but I don't know how that looks in our business magazine.
Looks as good on paper. We're in the kill zone, pal. We lock and load.
Well, this isn't just the public throwing darts. Many of the experts featured in our publication have studied business.
Most of these Harvard MBA types, they don't add up.
Give me guys that are poor, smart and hungry, and no feelings. You win a few, you lose a few, but you keep on fighting. And if you need a friend, get a dog. It's trench warfare out there, pal.
Reviewing your own personal motto and business model, I'm guessing that you have no friends then?
Bright, but not bright enough, Sherlock.
So you do have friends? Are they as cold as you consider yourself to be?
I got roasted the other night. A friend of mine asked, "Why are we honoring this man? Have we run out of human beings?" I mean, it's not always the most popular guy who gets the job done.
Very true. "No gentleman likes making love to a servant."
I beg your pardon. Is that a proverb?
No, that's actually Dylan...Bob Dylan...
And I hate to rehash the subject, but Bud Fox once said that he wanted to "be an entrepreneur in the Italian 16th century sense of the word." What do you think he meant?
Pretty soon, everybody is going to be scrambling for parachutes, only there's not enough to go around. Management has them. You don't.
So, pretty much, starting your own business is really the only sensible route? I'm trying to read between the lines.
When the time comes, you're going to parachute out a rich man.
Thank you. I'm kind of catching on here.
You done good, but you gotta keep doing good.
Thanks, I'll try.
Astonish me, pal.
Again, I'll try. But that may be it. Personally, I'm not too deep in the stock market. I don't have very much money and everything seems kind of risky right now.
You're walking around blind without a cane, pal. A fool and his money are lucky enough to get together in the first place.
I majored in journalism and minored in political science, so I'm still having a hard time...
I opened the doors for you. I showed you how the system works, the value of information, how to get it!
I know, I know...this is just really hard for me. I just...I'm trying, you know?
Sunshine, what's wrong?
I'm just trying so hard at this interview and now I'm realizing how unprepared I was, and I have a rush deadline on this thing, and I've still got fact-checking to do, and we've got some research projects coming up...
Relax, pal. Nobody's going to blow the whistle on you.
Ok...then can I ask the one non-business question I've been dying to ask?
Really? It's not a very important question though and it has nothing to do with business.
It's all right. It's ok.
Ok, then...is it true that you own a freakin' robot butler?
Can you believe it?
So you do?
Wow. That is unreal, man.
I tell you, we're going to a new age, pal.
Why do you own a robot butler anyway?
Doesn't talk back. Doesn't steal silverware.
Actually...that's a good point.
I suppose I should ask one final question. Feel free to take your time on this one. I think everyone's expecting it. Anyway, here goes. What do you have to say about all of the neglected shareholders in all of this wild economic craziness?
We're not here to indulge in fantasy, but in political and economic reality. America...America has become a second-rate power. Its trade deficit and its fiscal deficit are at nightmare proportions. Now, in the days of the free market, when our country was a top industrial power, there was accountability to the stockholder. The Carnegies, the Mellons, the men that built this great industrial empire made sure of it because it was their money that was at stake. Today, management has no stake in the company!
OK, I kind of see where you're going, but I feel some sort of tangent coming on...
You own the company. That's right. You, the stockholder. And you are all being royally screwed over by these bureaucrats with their steak luncheons, their hunting and fishing trips, their corporate jets and golden parachutes.
You use so many parachute metaphors, Mr. Gekko. I just...
The new law of evolution in corporate America seems to be survival of the unfittest. Well, in my book, you either do right or you get eliminated. In the last seven deals that I have been involved with, there were 2.5 million shareholders who have made a pretax profit of $12 billion.
Wait, seriously? Wow, I wasn't even aware that...
I am not a destroyer of companies! I am the liberator of them! The point is, ladies and gentleman, is that greed, for lack of a better word, is good.
Ladies and gentleman? Mr. Gekko, it's just you and me. And you're yelling. And where'd you get that microphone? And you know what? I'm tired. I think we should just wrap this up. You seem wildly exhausted and mildly delusional. I think...
Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms...greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation you call the U.S.A.
Though I will admit that your last line about the United States was pretty killer, I don't know what Teldar Paper is or does. You seem very tired and it sounds like we should end this interview.
OK, Billy, I'll talk at ya.
Talk at me? What? Is that even a phrase? Really? And also, it's Jake, Mr. Gekko. Not Billy. It's Jake...Jake Kilroy. Please try to remember that when a fact-checker calls. Oh, by the way, who should I put down for contact information? A PR person of some sort?
Call The Wall Street Chronicle, extension 1605.
And if that fails?
Then call me.
Will do. Any last advice?
Money never sleeps, pal.
Thank you, Mr. Gekko. It's been...interesting. Have a good day.
See you around, buddy.
*Go ahead. Rent Wall Street. See if I lied. Every quote above is legitimately from that movie. It took me an entire evening, a bowl of tofu and vermicelli, three sodas, a box of Wheat Thins and a half gallon of milk to do it, but I did it.