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Citizen Kane - Leadership and EthicsCitizen Kane - Leadership and Ethics


Citizen Kane (1941)


Famous for...

  • Orson Welles - its director, producer, co-writer and star (as Charles Foster Kane, an unscrupulous newspaper proprietor, based upon the American William Randolph Hearst, pictured right below).
  • Its implied attack on Hearst, Welles’ revenge for Hearst’s custom of entertaining Hollywood stars in his castle and then revealing their secrets in his newspapers.
  • Being voted the greatest film ever by the American and British Film Institutes.Citizen Kane - Leadership and Ethics


Orson Welles (aged only 25!)



One (best original screenplay).

 Citizen Kane - Leadership and Ethics

Key characters

Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles), newspaper proprietor - pictured right.


The story

In 1941 the rich and powerful newspaper tycoon, Charles Foster Kane’s last dying word is “Rosebud”, holding a snow globe.Citizen Kane - Leadership and Ethics

Flashbacks show highlights from his past:

  • His first marriage to an American president's niece, Emily Monroe Norton,who left him in 1916.
  • His unsuccessful campaign for governor, losing to Jim Gettys because of Kane's affair with a talentless singer, Susan Alexander (pictured right), whom he marries.

For an obituary newsreel Jerry Thompson, a reporter, investigates Kane’s life which is revealed through interviews with his friends and associates.

Thompson approaches Kane’s second wife, Susan Alexander, who tells him nothing, but later in a second interview says much more. He discovers that Kane’s parents reluctantly agreed for him to be brought up by an unloving banker, Mr. Thatcher, after he inherited a huge fortune (sixty million dollars).Citizen Kane - Leadership and Ethics

The day (aged eight) he was taken away from his home and his mother (pictured right), he was playing on a little sled (or sledge).

Thompson finds out more about him from his:

  • personal business manager (Mr. Bernstein), who says that Kane wasn't motivated by money.
  • best friend (Jedediah Leland), who helped him at the New York Inquirer. 

After buying the Inquirer Kane boosts its circulation by:

  • sacrificing quality journalism, and Citizen Kane - Leadership and Ethics
  • stealing all the best journalists from its rival, The Chronicle.

Kane sacks Jedediah Leland (pictured right) after he gives an honest assessment of Susan’s horrible opening night performance as an opera singer.

She eventually leaves him and, while angrily destroying her room, Kane finds a snow globe with falling snowflakes, This reminds him of the snowy day he said goodbye to his mother, when he was playing on a sled with the name Rosebud on it.

So he dies, holding the globe and saying;


He dies a lonely old man, locked inside Xanadu, his luxury mansion. The film ends after his death with smoke rising out of Xanadu from the burning of Kane’s possessions including his treasured sled.


Lessons for leadership and ethics

 Citizen Kane - Leadership and Ethics

1. People count not possessions

His mother’s rejection made Kane unable to have close relationships. His obsessive spending and collecting (particularly statues) can’t fill this void, and he dies a miserable, lonely old man.

He desperately wants his mother, not his huge inheritance.

His son and ex-wife also die in a car accident in 1918.


2. Power corruptsCitizen Kane - Leadership and Ethics

He uses power for his own advantage (like using his newspaper to support his political campaign) even at the expense of his friends, wives and employees.

“I’ll provide the war”, he tells his reporter who says there is no war in Cuba.

Kane’s best friend. Jedediah Leland (pictured right), says he was a”swine” and “did brutal things”.


3. Integrity is inspirational

Kane fails to inspire people’s love and loyalty, because of his bad character.Citizen Kane - Leadership and Ethics

He is unprincipled, ruthlessly imposing his will on others like his:

  • best friend, Jedediah Leland.
  • wife, Susan (who leaves him because he won’t let her be her own person)

Kane forced her to be a singer and was totally self-centred.

To win the governor's election (pictured right), he is even prepared to sacrifice his son's feelings by publicizing his affair with Susan.

 Citizen Kane - Leadership and Ethics

4. Practise your principles

When Kane buys The Inquirer, he gives the newspaper the principles of journalistic honesty and integrity which he immediately breaks, much to Leland’s disgust.

Leland says that Kane believed in and loved nothing but himself. Kane tells his first wife, Emily, that people will think “what I tell them to think”.

Kane:Citizen Kane - Leadership and Ethics

  • steals the best journalists from a rival newspaper.
  • supports editorial bias for his own advantage.
  • believes that people’s loyalty can be bought.
  • fires Leland (for his honest review of Susan’s bad singing).


5. Remember your legacyCitizen Kane - Leadership and Ethics

Kane was a failure, because he wanted to be remembered as a happy, loving human being (as he was with his mother), not a ruthless businessman.

The burning of his sled (sledge) and other possessions after his death shows how quickly his power and money were forgotten.


6. Selfishness stinks

Kane’s self-centredness ruins his relationships including his:

  • two marriages. Citizen Kane - Leadership and Ethics
  • friendship with Leland.

Kane dies alone and miserable.

His second wife, Susan, says about him;

“You never give me anything I really care about”.


Key quotes on happiness and success

“Rosebud!”, Kane’s last dying word.

Mr. Kane was a man who got everything he wanted and then lost it...Rosebud is just a piece in a jigsaw puzzle, a missing piece, Thompson.

Mr. Kane was a man who lost almost everything he had, Bernstein.


Key quote on business ethics

They’re going to get the truth in The Inquirer – quickly and simply and entertainingly, Kane’s declaration of The Inquirer’s principles.


Key quote on leadership and management

I don’t know how to run a newspaper...I just try everything I can think of, Kane.

There's only one person in the world who decides what I'm gonna do and that's me, Kane.


Key quote on age

Old age, it's the only disease...that you don't look forward to being cured of, Bernstein 


Key quote on the past

That's one of the greatest curses ever inflicted on the human race, memory, Leland.


Two film websites to recommend

1. filmsite.org (run by Tim Dirks).

2. aveleyman.com (run by Tony Sullivan)

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