The lesson:BOSTON (TheStreet) -- For every interesting good guy, there needs to be an equally intriguing bad guy.In fact, the villains of books, film, TV and comic books are often more interesting than the do-gooders they try to thwart. Crime doesn't pay? Well, for a lot of these big-time bad guys, their dastardly deeds do actually pay the bills. The following are 10 dastardly deed doers who can offer insight into decisions about business and money:
The villain of comedian Mike Meyer's Austin Powers franchise reveals himself when it comes to money matters. Cryogenically frozen since the heyday of the swinging '60s, he fails to consider inflation when he demands "one milllllllionn dollarrrrrsss" as ransom, lest he destroy the world. The lessons:
Many fail to adjust their retirement savings goal to account for the increased cost of living they will face. Your dollars just won't stretch as far 20 years into retirement. An alternate takeaway is that equities, though having risk, can greatly increase your assets if properly used in a portfolio. While Dr. Evil was kept on ice, his top henchman, Number 2, built an empire -- Virtucon -- less by super villain skullduggery than investing ill-gotten gains in Starbucks ( SBUX). That corporate association includes the bad doctor holding court in a secret hideaway atop Seattle's space needle, a lair complete with its own 'bucks. "I spent 30 years of my life turning this two-bit evil empire into a world-class multinational," Number 2 laments to Dr. Evil. "I was going to have a cover story with Forbes. But you, like an idiot, want to take over the world. And you don't realize there is no world anymore! It's only corporations!"
The film Goldfinger and the Ian Fleming novel it's based on have secret agent James Bond called onto the case after The Bank of England grows suspicious about bullion dealer Auric Goldfinger's massive stockpiling of gold. Goldfinger, we learn, is the mastermind behind "Operation Grand Slam," a plan to destroy Fort Knox, the United States' depository of the gold, making his own stash far more valuable even though it destroys the world's economy in the process. The film veers from the book's premise somewhat, taking the more logical approach that Goldfinger plans to contaminate the gold (with radiation), thereby removing transportation logistics and having the added benefit of making his own holdings all the more valuable. The real-life inspiration for Goldfinger is believed to have been a German spy, Gustav Steinhauer, who failed at a plot to bomb The Bank of England's gold reserves, bankrupting the nation and crippling its efforts during World War I. The lessons:
You gold bugs out there had better be careful when hoarding the stuff, lest you suffer the consequences of a drop in value, or, less likely, find yourself strapped to an operating table and facing slow evisceration by laser beam. Goldfinger's plot would be useless today. To start with, the U.S. went off the gold standard back in 1971, so the impact on currency would be symbolic at best. There is also the question of how much gold there really is there. Conspiracy theorists have suggested for decades that all that gold wouldn't be kept at such a well-known location anyway, and might instead be stockpiled at undisclosed locations. U.S Rep Ron Paul, R-Texas, a presidential candidate in 2008, has filed legislation that would force an audit of the Federal Reserve, including the holdings at Fort Knox.
There are many incarnations of Mephistopheles in film and literature. There is Milton's humanistic take, a being banished by God for daring to advocate for free will. There is the Bible's version, a serpent purveying false promises and temptation. A traditional, cartoonish version provides a flash of sulfur and a red-caped ghoul brandishing a pitchfork. The version we are going with comes from the Adam Sandler comedy Little Nicky. In Sandler's version, the devil, played by Harvey Keitel, is in the middle of a power struggle between two sons vying to be heirs to his throne (the titular character is a meek bystander caught in the crossfire and forced to live on Earth to save the day). The lessons:
The crux of this family dispute is that the Prince of Darkness, after a 10,000-year reign, had summoned his sons to pick a successor -- then angered the hot-tempered Adrian and Cassius and inspired a hostile takeover attempt -- by deciding he wasn't quite ready to retire after all. For business owners a similar dilemma is no laughing matter. Having a carefully considered business succession plan is vital to ensure that your endeavors continue to prosper long after you shuffle off the mortal coil. On personal matters, wills need to be regularly reconsidered and revised and an estate plan put in place, to provide for your family and prevent the money squabbles that can tear them apart.
In the 18th James Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies, media mogul Elliot Carver -- played by Jonathan Pryce, possibly channeling News Corps.' ( NWSA) Rupert Murdoch -- gets involved in black market arms deals, seeking to manipulate a war between China and the United Kingdom. His plot serves two purposes: to replace the Chinese government with friendly faces of his choosing (cracking into an untapped market) and the obvious ratings and readership boost a world at war would provide. Just as William Randolph Hearst allegedly demanded "you supply the pictures, I'll supply the war" in the days leading to the Spanish-American War, Carver is a master at manipulating headlines to suit his purposes. In the course of the film (and its novelization) he blackmails the president of the United States into signing legislation that lowers cable rates and starts a mad cow disease panic to punish a British beef magnate who reneged on a poker debt. The lessons:
Don't chase headlines. Too often, people supplant their own critical thinking with whatever talking heads -- or far more dangerously, Twitter feeds and bloggers -- tell them. They frequently buy and sell stocks, or reallocate their portfolio, as a result. Pay attention to global events as part of your investing due diligence, and be aware that many news sources are trying to help and be objective. Be keenly aware that even the best of intentions can be undermined by the quest for ratings, editorial slants or the introduction of politics. Rash decisions with your money, based on the news on any given day, can easily prove to be a mistake.
Superman stands for truth, justice and the American way (although he's wavered on that last one). His arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor, lives largely for revenge and capitalism, combining the two whenever possible. In the comics, Luthor is a wealthy Metropolis master of the universe, running the vast conglomerate LexCorp. At one point in his colorful history (and it should be noted that comic book timelines and backstories change at whim), Luthor even bought the Daily Planet, the newspaper where Superman's alter ego Clark Kent worked. He later sold it, bemoaning its lack of profitability, and decided to instead build a media empire around a TV "superstation." He even later sold the whole enterprise for a multibillion-dollar profit. And his next move was to buy a controlling interest in three major banks, manipulating financial markets to his liking. In the movie retellings of 1978-79 (with the late Christopher Reeve as The Man of Steel) Luthor's money smarts are integral to the plot. In the first film, Luthor, portrayed by Gene Hackman, hatched a simple, yet ingenious plot. He gobbles up cheap, undesirable land in Nevada and points north. Why? Well, once his nukes send California tumbling to the ocean, the new Pacific Coast, which he owns most of, will be extremely valuable. In the sequel, when a trio of evil Kryptonians try to take over the earth, Luthor helps them, suggesting ways they can take out Superman. All he wants in exchange for his global treason is Australia. Once again, beachfront property is his ideal investment. The lessons:
Don't mix business with personal affairs -- whether romantic or revenge-focused. Luthor's downfall is that he tries to settle his vendetta while making money. His evil plots are just not diversified. Like so many over-the-top villains, Luthor's plot in the movies would surely have been his downfall in the real world. Having all your wealth tied up in real estate probably wouldn't have worked out too well once 2008 rolled around. We do have to wonder, however, if Kryptonite counts as a commodity play?
Voiced by comedian Albert Brooks, this one-shot character on The Simpsons was a madman hell-bent on world domination. He was also a pretty good boss. Scorpio (before we know much about him) hires Homer to "motivate" employees at a nuclear reactor he owns through the Globex Corp. Scorpio pays to relocate the hire and sets him up in a great house. There's a great health plan, dental coverage and a Google ( GOOG)-like work culture. Scorpio also has an open-door policy as a boss -- taking time to approve Homer's request to buy employee hammocks even though he's multitasking on a satellite feed, threatening the United Nations Security Council with a "doomsday device" and vaporizing the 59th Street Bridge. The lessons:
Everybody loves a good boss, and great benefits can both retain employees and bring out their best. Scorpio may be on par with the greatest of Bond villains, but his employees adore working for him and, as a result, cheerfully work long hours to meet deadlines and improve upon their various projects.
The Corleones could have been great CEOs if they weren't gangsters. Organized crime, for them, does pay -- at least to a point. Their Mafia family is rich, powerful and envied. Best of all, the empire doesn't miss a beat when young Michael takes over upon the death of patriarch Don Vito. The lessons:
There are a wealth of financial and business advice tucked into the two Godfather films, including: The importance of negotiation: "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse." Sticking to core competencies is better than overextending: Don Vito steadfastly resists efforts to pull the family into the drug trade. Tough decisions are sometimes necessary/it's just business, don't take it personally: Michael didn't want to whack Fredo, he had to. Always be building your brand: The Corleones are feared and perpetually build on that intimidation factor. On the flip side, they are valued members of the community at large and revered for their charity. Always accrue interest: Don Vito is always quick to provide a favor, what he asks in return, however, is always larger.
The mouth-breathing man in black from the Star Wars films is one of the most feared men in his galaxy. His mind bullets can choke the insolent from across the room. His fully equipped Death Star can obliterate a planet at the push of a button. The lessons:
Always be a hands-on manager. Delegating authority is always the mark of good leadership, but it needs to be paired with adequate oversight and quality control. Vader, as a boss, is the Michael Scott of the dark side. He's so busy flailing away with his pretty red light saber that he apparently never took so much as a peek at the blueprints for his big "Death Star" concept. A ventilation shaft that leads right to the core reactor? Really? A design flaw that can be exploited to disastrous effect by a single blast from an X-Wing? Did you really sign off on that?
Victor Von Doom is the bad guy in an iron mask who has tormented the Fantastic Four for decades. A madman who mixes arcane magic with cutting-edge technology, the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby creation is one of the most popular villains in the history of comics. Dr. Doom's day job is dictator of Latveria. His methods may be ruthless, but his iron fist -- literally and figuratively -- ensures that the trains run on time and his coffers are full. The lesson:
Never underestimate the value of either emerging markets or government contracts. All those rocket packs and giant robots keep people employed for whatever vendor was bold enough to win a bid with the baddie.
You may not remember his name after seeing Avatar -- all those 3-D, half-naked blue people were likely a distraction -- but Selfridge was the squirrelly head of the Resources Development Administration's program to mine the ridiculously named Unobtainium on Pandora. The lessons:
Commodities, as a hard asset, have to come from somewhere. Gold, as they say, doesn't just grow on trees. That's the case with Pandora's lucrative Unobtainium mines. The substance is valued at $20 million per kilogram raw; $40 million processed. Like real-life gold and oil speculators, supply and demand drive price. From a business perspective, Avatar shows -- in a somewhat ham-fisted way -- that a little bit of diplomacy can go a long way. Selfridge could have chosen the path of negotiating with the Na'vi, working with the native people to find common ground and a mutual benefit. Instead, he took the imperialistic approach, triggering an all-out war and proving that a carrot-and-stick approach is often more successful than the stick alone. -- Written by Joe Mont in Boston. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Joe Mont. >To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/josephmont. >To submit a news tip, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.