Movie Message: Living By Words
The Transporter shows us how to live by words, and Harvard's MBA students give us what words to live by.
"What if we had a code of conduct, the management equivalent of the Hippocratic oath? What if we actually lived up to our billing and became leaders who don’t just make a difference in the world, but make a difference for the world?" - Max Anderson, Cambridge, May 2009
What could a fictional character from a high-energy action movie possibly have in common with Harvard Business School graduate students?
Both have decided to live by words.
In the movie The Transporter (2003), we are introduced to Frank Martin, a highly-effective "driver" whose former Special Forces training gets him in and out of trouble. But what I love most about the Transporter movies (there are now three) is how Frank Martin's character has been designed. Each movie follows the exploits of this mercenary driver - a "transporter" - as he moves all kinds of people and products from one place to another. Although Frank Martin began the first film driving a customized BMW 7-series, and finished Transporter 3 driving an Audi A8, his uniquely-designed character traits have remained the same.
What separates Frank Martin's character from most others is his adherance to rules. He follows, rather, lives by a strict set of rules. For example, Rule One is never change the deal; Rule Two is no names - Frank Martin doesn't want to know who he's working for or what he is transporting; and Rule Three is never look in the package. These are some of the rules that define Frank's character - not just his fictional character, but his fictional character's character.
"Man lives not by food only, but by words." - Tiger Todd
In Transporter 2 (2005), we get a further glimpse into Frank Martin's character and how the words he lives by continue to define him. When the wife of his wealthy diplomat client wants more than a shoulder to cry on - and she seeks out Frank Martin to fill the void in her soul left by her absentee husband - only a strong commitment to his rules can save them both from the consequences. The following dialog from Transporter 2 illustrates the kind of character that heroes should aspire to live into. In this scene, Audrey Billings has come into Frank Martin's cottage and, using her body to seductively push Frank Martin against a wall, is shocked by his resistance:
Audrey Billings: “You said if I needed anything...”
Frank Martin: “I can't.”
Audrey Billings: “Why, because of who I am?”
Frank Martin: “It's because of who I am.”
While average men might dream of this kind of encounter with a beautiful and wealthy woman, it is clear that Frank Martin is not an average man. From living by rules - his governing principles - he has become the kind of hero who is focused on his mission. Frank Martin also shows that respect for another's family begins with developing respect for oneself. Audience members watching Transporter 2 were able to witness something almost unheard of: how a single man’s principles and accurate moral compass could save a family from the consequences of infidelity. By modeling this positive behavior, we can gain inspiration and courage to be “more than mere men,” even if we still need to learn some more rules. Frank Martin - yes, a fictional character – was also able to offer a growing population of unfathered and unmentored young men a powerful lesson on how to be honorable and respectable in relationships with women.
“It is curious - curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare." -Mark Twain (1835-1910)
What words do you live by?
Switching gears to real-life heroes, let's talk about how Harvard's MBA class of 2009 applied the same principle and, in so doing, changed the world's financial system.
Discouraged by the carelessness and lack of respect that many MBA's and financial managers had shown the people of the world, this league of graduate students did what heroes do: they took matters in their own hands. First, they hypothesized that the fundamental issue at the core of the world's financial meltdown was not the overselling of securities, but that those to whom people's finances had been entrusted didn't think about anyone but themselves - the antithesis of both heroism and entrepreneurism - and that what what they were doing was at all unethical. In a coversation I had with the head of UCLA's MBA program just before the financial disaster, I was informed that students are not taught about the connection between people and money because it was irrelevant. Sadly, many MBAs soon after became irrelevant. But not so with the MBA students at Harvard.
Their diagnosis for the activities that led to the financial system meltdown was that MBA's had no Code of Conduct - there were no rules or words for them to live by like there are with other professions, including doctors, lawyers, and warriors. An MBA's Code of Conduct must support fiscal responsibility and honorable dealings with their clients and markets. So Harvard's MBA student-heroes acted, declaring a new standard for ethics in business and financial management that is quickly becoming adopted by businesses and business schools around the world.
“Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to face the truth. Do the right thing because it is right. These are the magic keys to living your life with integrity.” - W. Clement Stone, 1902-2002
For their commitment to Live by Words, and for taking courageous and Heroic Action to bring human ethical standards to the financial industry, we proudly honor the Harvard MBA Class of 2009. Well done, heroes.
Read about their own words and support their Code of Conduct here.
Are you ready to live by words, too? Repeat the MBA Oath out loud now:
THE MBA OATH
"As a business leader I recognize my role in society.
• My purpose is to lead people and manage resources to create value that no single individual can create alone.
• My decisions affect the well-being of individuals inside and outside my enterprise, today and tomorrow.
Therefore, I promise that:
• I will manage my enterprise with loyalty and care, and will not advance my personal interests at the expense of my enterprise or society.
• I will understand and uphold, in letter and spirit, the laws and contracts governing my conduct and that of my enterprise.
• I will refrain from corruption, unfair competition, or business practices harmful to society.
• I will protect the human rights and dignity of all people affected by my enterprise, and I will oppose discrimination and exploitation.
• I will protect the right of future generations to advance their standard of living and enjoy a healthy planet.
• I will report the performance and risks of my enterprise accurately and honestly.
• I will invest in developing myself and others, helping the management profession continue to advance and create sustainable and inclusive prosperity.
In exercising my professional duties according to these principles, I recognize that my behavior must set an example of integrity, eliciting trust and esteem from those I serve. I will remain accountable to my peers and to society for my actions and for upholding these standards.
This oath I make freely, and upon my honor."