Following the death of a company president, the remaining members of management struggle over who will succeed him. [ Executive Suite credits: Dir: Robert Wise/ William Holden, June Allyson, Barbara Stanwyck/ 105 min/ Drama/ Creator as Hero, Pro-Capitalism]
“A refreshingly true, even instructive, picture of business.”
Like the well-known classic libertarian film Cash McCall, this film is based on a novel by Cameron Hawley and has something of a Randian flavor. In this earlier picture, however, the pro-capitalist content is more subtle.
Executive Suite opens with the sudden death of a furniture company’s president. His unexpected demise creates a power vacuum within the company’s management. The firm’s head accountant, a calculating, politically astute man, moves quickly to fill the void. But his policy of making short-term profits at the expense of the company’s long-term prospects, and his general lack of vision, have already been causing damage.
Among the few who understand this is a research scientist, who enters the fray to oppose him. In the scientist’s decisive speech at the end of the film, he argues, as Rand would, that people are not motivated simply by money but by pride; that both money and pride are the product of genuine accomplishment; and that to try to take short cuts to money (by producing shoddy merchandise, as had been advocated by the head accountant) would in the end produce neither the pride needed to motivate the company’s workers nor maximum profitability.
The implied maxim — that doing your best is the correct path to self-benefit — will appeal to libertarians, and amounts to the moral flip side of Adam Smith’s observation that people intending only their own self-interest tend to benefit others “as though led by an invisible hand.”
But you only get this implied maxim at the end. Much of the rest of Executive Suite comes across like a dramatized Harvard Business School case. As such, it’s just a fair watch, although it presents a refreshingly true, even instructive, picture of business.
Some of the direction is clever, particularly in the opening scene. It’s shot entirely from the perspective of the company president as he arranges a business meeting and then dies, without ever appearing on screen. The film also benefits from a very high-caliber cast, including William Holden and Barbara Stanwyck.