wisdom to win

 Wisdom to Win
search bar left
search bar right

The Last Tycoon - LeadershipThe Last Tycoon - Leadership


The Last Tycoon (1941)


Written by the American, Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940), pictured right.

He also called it:

The Love of the Last Tycoon: A Western.


Fun factsThe Last Tycoon - Leadership

  • Fitzgerald’s death in 1940 stopped him finishing it.
  • Its central character, Monroe Stahr, is loosely based upon the Hollywood film producer, Irving Thalberg, pictured right, co-founder of MGM studios.
  • A 1976 film of the book starred Robert De Niro as Monroe Stahr (pictured right below).

 The Last Tycoon - Leadership

Set in...

Late 1930's Hollywood.


Key characters

Monroe Stahr, film producer.

Kathleen Moore, his lover.


The story

There is a big earthquake in Hollywood, causing a flood in the studio of film producer, Monroe Stahr. He sees two women floating on the water.The Last Tycoon - Leadership

One of them (an Irish lady) is the double of his dead wife and so he gets his workers to find her. They discover her name is Kathleen Moore, but she doesn’t want to know Stahr.

Cecilia, the daughter of Stahr’s business partner, Pat Brady, is desperate to marry Stahr. But he says he is too busy with his work.

Stahr is renowned for looking after his staff and his innovative and quality films, making it to the top from his poor Jewish upbringing in New York.

At a dance with Cecilia, Stahr accidentally meets Kathleen who agrees to go out with him for lunch and then dinner. They make love in Stahr’s unfinished seaside house in Santa Monica.

They walk along the beach, meeting an African American man who challenges Stahr’s ideas about the quality and purpose of his movies. After Stahr drives Kathleen home, his housekeeper finds one of her letters in her car saying she is engaged to someone else.The Last Tycoon - Leadership

Five days later, Kathleen calls Stahr, and they agree to meet at the weekend. But before then, her fiancée arrives and they are married. Stahr has a fight with a communist union official (whom he blames for a strike in his studio) and starts a romance with Cecilia.

Fitzgerald’s death ended the story here, but his notes suggest that Kathleen and Stahr re-kindle their romance.

Stahr struggles to stop Pat Brady taking control of his studio, and he fears that Brady will murder him.

So he hires some gangsters to get him first, and realizes his mistake on a plane. But he dies in a crash before he can contact the killers and so Brady is murdered.


Lessons from Stahr’s leadership


1. Vision is vital

Although he realizes the importance of profit and customer satisfaction, Stahr also wants to produce quality, artistic films.


  • disagrees with Fleishacker, an immoral and profit-obsessed colleague.
  • is challenged to improve the quality of his films by the African American on the beach.

 The Last Tycoon - Leadership

2. Have the determination to overcome your problems

Stahr’s career is a classic rags to riches story from poor child to powerful producer.

Fitzgerald likens him to the American president, Abraham Lincoln (pictured right) because they both successfully overcame so many problems.


3. Combining opposites

Stahr’s success is dependent upon combining two potential opposites:

  • artistic quality.
  • profit.

Scott Fitzgerald wrote in his autobiographical book, The Crack Up:

“The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function”,  


 The Last Tycoon - Leadership

4. Treat your employees well

Stahr (pictured right with Kathleen in the film) is a benevolent dictator, who:

  • encourages his employees to be creative.
  • pays them well.
  • opposes any union interference (shown by his fight with the communist union official).


5. See the big picture

Stahr was able to look at all the big issues and their interrelationships, keeping in his head “the whole equation” of a movie.


6. Get a life

Stahr lives for his work, as his unfinished seaside house shows.

This dedication damages his health (he has heart problems) and his personal relationships.The Last Tycoon - Leadership

“He was born sleepless”, Cecilia says.

Kathleen is good for him, because she gets him away from the world of movies (pictured right in the film).


7. Go for it!


  • is dynamic with a passion for quality films.
  • shows great determination (to overcome his poor upbringing and the tragic death of his wife).
  • inspires his employees to have the same will (or self-motivation) to succeed.

He says:

“There is no substitute for will. Sometimes you have to fake will when you don’t feel it at all”

 The Last Tycoon - Leadership

8. Love learning

Stahr (pictured right in the film) has:

“an intense respect for learning”.

He learns from:

  • recognizing the importance of kindnessability and toughness.
  • doing (“You’ve got to decide—on what basis? You can’t test the best way—except by doing it. So you just do it”, he says).


Key quotes on relationships (by Monroe Stahr)

I like people and I like them to like me, but I wear my heart where God put it – on the inside, Stahr

My heart’s in the grave, Stahr (to Kathleen).


Key quotes on work

The studio is really home, Stahr.

You do what you’re born to do, Stahr.

He was born sleepless...without a talent for rest or the desire for it, Cecilia.


Key quotes on success and motivation

There are no second acts in American lives.

(meaning success comes in only one period of your life).

There is no substitute for will. Sometimes you have to fake will when you don’t feel it at all, Stahr


Key quote on learning (by Monroe Stahr)

You’ve got to decide—on what basis? You can’t test the best way—except by doing it. So you just do it.


Two literature websites to recommend 

1. sparknotes.com

2. litcharts.com

Free Newsletter
Enter your name and e-mail address to receive our free newsletter with analysis of business issues and new business books