Far from the many self-complacent autobiographies of CEOs we see published, this book is “one of the few American novels with a convincing and compelling businessman hero” (*). Monroe Stahr, its protagonist, is a relatively young successful movie producer, the archetypal working boss, devoted completely to his job, in total control of his company –though he faces inevitable conspiracies against him-, incomparable expert in his business and caring towards his subordinates. He is described as the “last of the princes” of Hollywood’s golden 30’s, a person with a “fine mentality”, his education however was “founded on nothing more than a night-school course in stenography, he had a long time ago run ahead through trackless wastes of perception into fields where very few men were able to follow him”.
Would you have liked to work for him? On the one hand, the entertainment industry is glamorous, full of opportunities for dynamic people with creative talent and provides numerous opportunities to deal with the powerful. On the other hand, Stahr is portrayed as a paternalistic manager who won’t let down anybody working for him. He promotes innovation and boosts the careers not only of ambitious bright youngsters but also of seniors committed to the company. When Ridingwood, an old movie director, looses his track in the middle of shooting, Stahr removes him quietly and supports his recovery. When Stahr´s best camera man begins to loose his sight, he sends the man to an ophthalmologist, clears up rumors, and asks him back to work. However, the book tells about Stahr that “he looked spiritual at times but he was a fighter”. For example, he arranges two or more screenwriter teams to work in parallel on the same plot in order to get the best possible result, even mixing the different contributions. I am not sure whether you would stand this practice if you were a conscientious writer. Nevertheless, isn’t it a way to foster internal competition towards obtaining the best product and enhance morale? In fact, some companies setup independent teams in parallel to figure out new ideas, also many managers ask for different supply offers in order to get the best bargain.
However, Stahr’s weakness is his lack of dedication to private life. “He was born sleepless without a talent for rest or the desire for it”, says someone of him in the novel. At some other stage, he replies to a person who wonders if he would stay in the studio after a long day at work and he replies: “Yes (…) I’ve got no place to go in the evenings so I just work”. He has a property over Malibu’s soft cliffs with a house still in its wooden structure for years. By chance, he meets a woman with whom he falls in love since she reminds him of his deceased wife, but later discovers that she is already engaged. If only he would have devoted the necessary time to encounter the love of his life! The novel ends telling about the wedding between Stahr and Cecile, the daughter of another producer, a marriage based more on convenience than love.
Personal satisfactions in ones private life cannot be replaced by work. Managers know this for sure but sometimes ignore it. True, contemporary management jobs are extremely demanding and can absorb endless time and energy. According to the conclusions of a recent survey on manager’s balance between professional and private life presented at my school, many of the interviewed identify this as one of their major concerns; a wake up-call to both business educators and companies.
The beauty of Scott Fitzgerald’s prose more than justifies adding a final quote referred to Stahr in the novel’s episode 3:
“He had flown up very high to see, on strong wings when he was young. And while he was up there he had looked on all the kingdoms, with the kind of eyes that can stare straight into the sun. Beating his wings tenaciously –finally frantically- and keeping on beating them he had stayed up there longer than most of us, and then, remembering all he had seen from his great height of how things were, he had settled gradually to earth”.
(*) Matthew J. Bruccoli’s “Preface” to “The Love of The Last Tycoon”; Scribner, New York, 1993, p. v.