Tolerating Even the Highest-Performing Bad Apples in Any Organization Never Ends Well
7/18/22 – – Women’s rights advocate Tarana Burke is credited with coining the phrase #MeToo. Burke’s web-based initiative created a platform and environment of support for survivors of sexual violence to tell their stories. The powerful testimony of many Hollywood women, including Rose McGowan, Ashley Judd and Rosanna Arquette, accelerated the growth of #MeToo. But it was the monstrous, long-tolerated behavior of a Hollywood man, Harvey Weinstein, that supercharged the movement into an international force that has profoundly changed male – female dynamics in society and the workplace.
Much has been written about the Jekyll-and-Hyde impresario Harvey Weinstein. At age 70, he now resides in the maximum-security Wende Correctional Facility near Buffalo, New York, serving a 23-year sentence for criminal sexual assault and third-degree rape. (He’s facing additional criminal and civil charges in New York and California.) Of all the journalists chronicling Weinstein’s ascension and fall, Ken Auletta, communications-industry columnist for The New Yorker magazine, has in my opinion provided the most informed coverage and analysis.
Auletta’s new book, “Hollywood Ending — Harvey Weinstein and the Culture of Silence,” released last week, includes fascinating on-the-record insights from survivors, Harvey’s brother Bob, Harvey himself (Auletta maintained a dialogue with Weinstein through third parties even during his incarceration), and dozens of employees, attorneys and board members affiliated with Miramax (the Weinstein brothers named the groundbreaking entertainment company after their parents, Miriam and Max) and The Weinstein Company who personally experienced Harvey’s abuse and volcanic mood swings.
Even if you think you’ve heard everything about Harvey’s sociopathic behavior, you’ll be shocked by the revelations on almost every page of this book.
What may shock you even more is the damning spotlight Auletta shines on Hollywood’s culture of silence and rationalization that allowed this monster for decades to enjoy the riches of fame while living the life of a serial rapist. It’s clear that powerful, admired people — including Hillary Clinton, attorney David Boise, executives at Disney (Disney owned Miramax for 12 years), A-list actors and actresses, investment bankers and the Obamas, who allowed their daughter Malia to serve as a summer intern at The Weinstein Company — knew a whole lot about what was going on and chose out of greed, self-interest, fear or inhumanity to look the other way.
In 2005, after Disney decided to end its relationship with Harvey and Bob but retain the Miramax name, the brothers found willing investors, including Goldman Sachs, Fidelity, SoftBank Group and Wellington Management, for their new entity, The Weinstein Company. Auletta points to the language in the brothers’ employment contracts (they served a co-chairmen), approved by the outside investors, as evidence of awareness and complicity:
“And for the board to terminate either Harvey or Bob ‘for cause’ was a stupendously high bar. In what can be taken as Harvey’s certitude that his sexual deviance was unassailable, the contract required that either brother first be convicted of a felony for ‘moral turpitude,’ and only ‘after the exhaustion of all possible appeals’ could they be dismissed. If either were accused of sexual harassment, for instance, even if there was documentary evidence, the board was not to investigate. Instead, the board had to wait to see if either was convicted in a court of law. A second definition of ‘moral turpitude’ in the contract involved the misuse of corporate funds. Here, too, the contract provided an unusual escape hatch: the guilty party would be granted ‘a cure’ period, allowing them time to fix the financial fraud as if were a mere mistake, and to demonstrate they were ‘cured’ of whatever impulse drove them to cheat.“
In Chapter 3 of “The Crisis Preparedness Quotient” (“Where Crises Come From”), I outline nine common sources from which the majority of corporate crises spring: people, products, priorities, policies, performance, politics, procrastination, privacy and past. I start with “people” because from my experience the people in most companies, while often the greatest assets, also create the greatest exposure to crisis. The threats from the other eight sources pale in comparison to the potential harm bad people can do to even great enterprises.
It’s amazing how many companies tolerate “bad apples” within their ranks. The rationalization usually centers on perceived productivity and value. “Yes, he’s a horse’s ass, but he’s our best salesman by far.” “Okay, she bends the rules, but her department’s results speak for themselves.” “He steps all over people, but that’s because he wants to get things done.”
In Harvey’s case it was, “Yeah, I’ve heard the stories, but what about the money he raises for charity, the support he provides to progressive causes and politicians, and all those amazing films that big studios would never touch: “Pulp Fiction,” Shakespeare in Love,” “Good Will Hunting, “The English Patient”?
Excuses like these — enabling bad apples and predators — are reliable harbingers of crises.
Instituting financial controls, codes of conduct, anonymous employee hotlines and ethics training are all important. In addition, business leaders, including corporate directors, should ask their management teams on a regular basis, “Has there been behavior or signals coming from anyone in the company that undermines our culture?” Be honest. And as the lessons of “Hollywood Ending” make clear, awareness must lead to action.
There’s plenty of blame, starting with the harsh parenting of Miriam Weinstein, to go around in the saga of Harvey Weinstein. But Auletta directs his harshest criticism at the business men and women all around Harvey who, unlike most of those he assaulted, had the power and support structure to blow the whistle — and prevent a crisis that destroyed careers, companies and hundreds of lives.