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Wall Street - Success and Business EthicsWall Street - Success and Business Ethics


Wall Street (1987)


Famous for...

  • 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), Wall Street - Success and Business Ethicsimprisoned in 1987 for insider trading (dealing in a company’s shares based on information only known within that company).


Set in...

1980’s New York (Wall Street is the city’s financial district, where Gekko works).

 Wall Street - Success and Business Ethics


Oliver Stone (pictured right, who dedicated the film to his father, Louis, a stockbroker).



One for best actor (Michael Douglas).Wall Street - Success and Business Ethics


Key characters

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.


The storyWall Street - Success and Business Ethics

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 the company).Wall Street - Success and Business Ethics

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 so...
  • 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 a:Wall Street - Success and Business Ethics

  • 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) .Wall Street - Success and Business Ethics

Devastated and guilt ridden (particularly after Carl has a heart attack), Bud (pictured right):

  • confronts Gekko.
  • saves the airline (and its employees’ jobs) by engineering a sharp fall in its share price.

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). Wall Street - Success and Business Ethics

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 principles.

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

 Wall Street - 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 yourselfWall Street - Success and Business Ethics

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 father.

He says to Bud.

“It’s yourself you’ve got to be proud of”.

 Wall Street - Success and Business Ethics

5. People before profit

The film:

  • 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.

 Wall Street - Success and Business Ethics

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).

 Wall Street - Success and Business Ethics

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 wiselyWall Street - Success and Business Ethics

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)

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