Study Guide 17: Revolutionary Vision

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Guide opening:

Your business is going well. You and your partners have earned a tidy profit from a traditional business for many years, and you see nothing that signals a need for change. Engaged in the normal routine of challenges and problem solving, you come upon an idea so different that it will revolutionize the business. You know it will work. Everything – your experience, your sense of the market, your intuition – tells you it will work. Your partners, however, are not engaged by your vision. They are conservative investors and expect immediate returns on their investments. You don’t focus on the money; to you it’s the achievement that counts.

How can you proceed with building your dream?

The 1991 film, Bugsy, follows the conception and construction of The Flamingo, the first glamorous casino in that modern Mecca of gambling, Las Vegas. The movie credits Dean Jennings’ book We Only Kill Each Other: The Life and Bad Times of Bugsy Siegel as its source.

An excerpt from the plot summary:

Mixing legend with a few historic facts, Levinson pulls it all off, capturing the complexities and contradictions of Bugsy, who is played ably by Warren Beatty. The film’s dramatic tension comes from contrasting the primitive yet sophisticated persona of Siegel against the backdrops of style-conscious Hollywood and the raw-edged energy of Las Vegas’ rise from the desert. The similarities and contrasts between the management techniques of crime syndicates and those of “legit” businesses provide numerous launch points for discussion of business ethics and the role of the firm. Beatty and real-life wife Annette Bening, who plays Bugsy’s gal-pal Virginia Hill, sizzle with screen chemistry in this myth-building look at post-war Hollywood, organized crime and the rise of modern Vegas.

The film opens with Siegel’s move to Hollywood and his new assignment from his partners and bosses, the chief of whom is mobster Meyer Lansky. (In real life, Siegel and Lansky were boyhood chums, collegial thugs who continued their friendship as adults).  Lansky dispatches Siegel to Los Angeles to deal with a renegade gangster. It’s supposed to be a short trip, but Siegel succumbs to the lure of Hollywood and decides to stay. He is fascinated by the magic of movies, meets new and exciting people, finds a soul mate and has a vision: he wants to build he first modern resort in a little Western backwater town called Las Vegas. Bugsy (don’t YOU ever call him that!) dreams big; but, hey, he has no sense of fiduciary responsibility. As a result, he alienates his partners, loses his family, loses his money and ultimately, loses his life in the single-minded pursuit of making his dream come true.

Summary of the commentary:

Bugsy has vision, and he knows how to get others to share it. Once they’ve bought in, however, he continually undermines their confidence in him. Lansky says it’s because Bugsy has no “respect for money.” This lack of respect for money underlies many of Siegel’s failings as a manager. Sometimes it leads him to micro-manage instead of delegating to others. When Bugsy goes to kill Jerry – dragging Lansky and Luciano along, Lansky tells him directly that “it really does affect my opinion of your ability to administrate when you get involved in this kind of administrative detail.” Luciano agrees, noting that for $3,900 they could have hired three guys to kill Jerry. Instead, they are tying up costly senior manager time so Bugsy can handle it himself. We almost hear him adding, “It’s not cost-effective.” Bugsy’s lack of respect for money prevents him from understanding the value of his own time. It also leads him to appoint and fail to monitor the person to whom he has delegated control of millions of dollars: Virginia Hill.