One of the best things about the 2011 film Margin Call is the interplay of the corporate psychopaths at the C-level of the bank, in particular Jared Cohen (Simon Baker), head of risk Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore) and the CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons).
All three are initially very confident and full of self-esteem. They have no doubts about their role in life and no hesitations in their actions. During the film they are manipulative, callous, egocentric and superficially charming.
By contrast, the head of trading Sam Rogers, (brilliantly portrayed by Kevin Spacey) is one C-level executive with a (admittedly limited) moral compass.
Once the C-level realises that the bank is facing bankruptcy, Tuld, in one of the great scenes, decides to simply to sell off all of the toxic assets before the market can react to the news of their worthlessness, thereby limiting the bank’s exposure. Rogers knows this will spread the risk throughout the financial sector and will destroy the firm’s relationships with its counter-parties, who will never trust them again. This clip shows the turning point.
As the plot develops you discover Rogers, Robertson, Cohen and Tuld were somewhat aware of the risks. Tuld decides to offer Robertson’s resignation to the board and employees as a sacrificial lamb. The plan to sell the toxic assets goes ahead. Robertson accepts her fate and sits in an office, being paid handsomely to do nothing. After the sell-off Rogers confronts Tuld, who remarks that the current crisis is really no different from any other, and sharp gains and losses are simply part of the game. He wants Rogers to stay at the firm for another two years, stating that there will be a lot of money to be made from the coming crisis. This focus on money, and the acceptance of it as a moral substitute is another trait of the corporate psychopath.
One of the great strengths of the Humm-Wadsworth model of temperament is that it teaches you to recognise corporate psychopaths who in the Humm-Wadsworth model are known as Hustlers.
About 15% of the population has a reasonably strong Hustler component so it is not surprising they are found at the senior level. Hustlers treat life as a game, and an important part of this game is learning how to manipulate and control other people. They do this at a rational, logical level. There is no compassion or sympathy, but they are very skilled at playing on other peoples’ emotion and by gaining sympathy and forgiveness for their own indiscretions.
I argue that while corporate psychopaths lack sympathy and compassion, they certainly have empathy and understand how to manoeuvre other peoples’ emotions. Learning how to recognise and manage corporate psychopaths is a critical step in gaining emotional intelligence.