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Business Lessons in A Film Margin Call

Categories: BusinessFilm
J. C. Chandler’s 2011 film Margin Call examines the actions of an investment firm’s key decision makers during the earliest stages of the most recent financial crisis. Chandler does a good job with the characters of this movie he isn’t necessarily looking for a villain in a mess like this nor any lengthy explanations; he’s going deeper than that. He goes more for societal costs of high finance, the power of self-rationalization, and the easy embrace of personal corruption.

The movie is filled with business lessons that go beyond the investment world. One theme of the film centers on business ethics and whether personal interest should trump customer/employee investment. Clearly, the decision made by John Tuld and senior management demonstrates that everybody is out for themselves. Personal investors are at the mercy of the individuals and the firms they invest with. The ease with which Tuld makes his decisions is scary to any business ethical viewer.

With unqualified statements such as, “its just money” the audience begins to understand that the financial system can be an unfair game.

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In contrast Peter’s boss, Sam Rogers’ ethical implications of how the company plans to resolve its problems are almost more than he can handle. Sam stumbles upon the issue triggering the crisis, it’s one thing to be shocked at the ramifications of what’s about to unfold. But it doesn’t mean one’s outrage can’t be set aside when personal survival is on the line, an attitude that he quietly maintains but isn’t afraid to tap when the need arises.

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Moral ethics are thrown out the window in order to salvage a firm that has taken on too much risk in order to increase profits and inflate employee earnings. Management is willing to do whatever it takes to save themselves and protect their personal assets. This includes liquidating entire departments, and ruining the integrity of their own employee’s careers in the process. This film had several big ethical messages from it. In addition, there were many smaller points and messages the film showed.

One in particular was the way that the employers used an employees entitlements as leverage to coerce them into doing what the enterprise requires. However, things such as stock options, pensions, bonus promises, and health care plans are simply paper assets. The promise that stands behind them can be broken and that paper is completely worthless at the order of those employers or in other words, blackmail. Ethics never loses its relevance.

It must be told and retold as, too often, the mportant lessons that it imparts individuals and institutions unwillingly set aside. Ethical lapses can lead and have led to the irrevocable damage of a firm, its employees and clients. If there are any ethics in the business world, the company’s plan for survival is unethical. But in a world that lacks options, there is only winning and losing. Some of the characters struggle with the little emotional and psychological life they have left. But their choice basically comes down to money or no money.

One thing that we must remember from this film is not just the ethical decisions made by the upper management but who is affected by these choices made by upper management. The most damaging fallout from all this is on those who didn’t see any of this coming, mostly the investors and the firm’s employees. Those who had the least involvement in all this mess are hurt the most in terms of financial losses. Even if it may seem like the employees’ participation was limited, they are nevertheless part of all of it, just by the inherent connectedness to the overall whole.

Just because they weren’t the ones making the decisions doesn’t mean the decisions made by upper management won’t hurt them. This film is a reminder that business and moral ethics can easily be lost in the shuffle when billions of dollars and entire companies are at stake. Tuld is willing to kill the market to protect his interest, without concern for the company’s investors or even the strength of the global economy. When money is no longer an issue, you lose all concern for the individuals who do not hold the same viewpoint.

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Business Lessons in A Film Margin Call. (2017, Feb 02). Retrieved from

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