Wall Street - Success and Business Ethics
Wall Street (1987)
- Stockbroker, Gordon Gekko’s “greed is good” philosophy.
- Michael Douglas’s Oscar winning performance as Gekko, based on the American stockbroker, Ivan
Boesky (pictured right), imprisoned in 1987 for insider trading (dealing in a company’s shares based
on information only known within that company).
1980’s New York (Wall Street is the city’s financial district, where Gekko works).
Oliver Stone (pictured right, who dedicated the film to his father, Louis, a
One for best actor (Michael Douglas).
Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), stockbroker (pictured right).
Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen), stockbroker.
Carl Fox (Martin Sheen, Charlie Sheen’s real life father), Bud’s father.
Bud Fox is a young ambitious stockbroker who is desperate to succeed at any price. His moral
and honest father, Carl (pictured right together), is a mechanic and union representative at a
small airline, Bluestar.
Bud wants a job with the ruthless Wall Street big shot, Gordon Gekko, who illegally profits
from insider trading - buying and selling shares based upon insider information (only known within
In a speech (pictured right) Gekko explains his “greed is good” philosophy.
Desperate to please him, Bud passes on his father’s information that his airline will receive:
- a safety clearance by the Federal Aviation Authority (after a plane crash), and
- a golden opportunity to expand and boost its profits.
When he buys some shares and makes a big profit, Gekko is delighted with Bud and employs him.
Using insider information from a college friend, Bud makes lots more money for Gekko, who repays him with
- beautiful blonde girlfriend (Darien, pictured right).
- luxurious lifestyle (including a lovely apartment in Manhatten).
- advises Gekko to buy Bluestar.
- persuades his very reluctant father to get union support for the sale.
Gekko then decides to:
- sell the airline’s assets (called asset stripping).
- put all its employees out of work (including Carl) .
Devastated and guilt ridden (particularly after Carl has a heart attack), Bud (pictured right):
- saves the airline (and its employees’ jobs) by engineering a sharp fall in its share
This forces Gekko to:
- sell his shares (losing millions).
- give control of the airline to his arch rival, Lawrence Wildman.
- is arrested for insider trading.
- meets Gekko in Central Park (wired up to incriminate him).
Gekko is furious and punches Bud for his betrayal (pictured right).
Whether or not Gekko is convicted is left open to question.
But Bud goes to jail, comforted by his father, who praises him for being true to his
Note - in the 2010 sequel (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps) we are told that Gekko is
released in 2001 after spending nearly eight years in prison for insider trading.
Lessons for success and business ethics
1. Greed is not good
Gekko’s “greed is good” philosophy sends Bud (and eventually him) to jail.
2. Survival of the fittest
Gekko believes that the strongest survive, likening business to “trench warfare”.
But he takes this dog eat dog philosophy too far, even valuing the rising price of his paintings and investments
more than people.
3. Be true to yourself
Bud eventually realizes he must be true to his principles rather than emulate the greedy criminal, Gekko.
Bud tells him in Central Park:
“As much as I wanted to be Gordon Gekko, I’ll always be Bud Fox”.
4. Morals matter
Bud wins back his self-respect when he re-discovers the ethical principles taught to him by his
He says to Bud.
“It’s yourself you’ve got to be proud of”.
5. People before profit
- supports making profits through people’s honest labour (as at Bluestar).
- attacks Gekko’s ruthless money making regardless of people’s jobs and feelings (as when he
tries to sell off Bluestar’s assets).
This unprincipled exploitation demotivates people including Bud.
6. Be prepared
Gekko’s favourite quote comes from the ancient Chinese general, Sun
Tzu’s (pictured right) book, The Art of War:
“Every battle is won before it's ever fought”.
So he values:
- total dedication to work (remarking that “lunch is for wimps”)
- information (“the most valuable commodity I know of”, he says).
7. Be useful rather than rich
Money isn’t everything, as Gekko’s restless and violent aggression shows.
Carl is much happier because he sees himself as
“a guy who never measured a man’s success by the size of his wallet”.
So he advises Bud to do something more creative and useful than stockbroking and “going for the easy buck”.
8. Choose your friends wisely
Gekko finally attacks Bud for his betrayal.
Bud and his girlfriend, Darien, split up, because she:
- doesn’t share his principles.
- remains loyal to Gekko, her ex-lover.
Key quotes on business ethics
Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works, Gekko.
It’s all about bucks, kid. The rest is conversation, Gekko.
Key quote on strategy
Every battle is won before it’s ever fought,Gekko .
Key quotes on work
Lunch is for wimps, Gekko.
Either you get it right, or you get eliminated, Gekko.
Two film websites to recommend
1. filmsite.org (run by Tim Dirks).
2. aveleyman.com (run by Tony Sullivan)