Corporate Psychopaths on Wall Street

Note: The theory that a significant percent of abusive managers are actual psychopaths is not new.  Robert D. Hare, Ph.D., and Paul Babiak, Ph.D., published the book, Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work  in 2006. Jon Ronson, author of the 2011 book, The Psychopath Test,  interviewed former American chief executive officer “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap,  who was notorious  for closing factories and laying off workers  in the 1990s. Ronson concluded Dunlap possessed many but not all of the traits of a psychopath. For example, Dunlap had no record of juvenile delinquency and was in a long standing marriage. PGB

 Precipitated Financial Collapse?

A former British academic has advanced a theory that “corporate psychopaths” at the helm of financial institutions in the United States are largely to blame for the global financial crisis.

“They are happy to walk away from the economic disaster that they have managed to bring about, with huge payoffs and with new roles advising governments how to prevent such economic disasters. Many of these people display several of the characteristics of psychopaths, and some of them are undoubtedly true psychopaths,” writes Clive R. Boddy, in a recent book published by Macmillan, Corporate Psychopaths: Organizational Destroyers.

He says psychopaths are the one percent of “people who, perhaps due to physical factors to do with abnormal brain connectivity and chemistry” lack a “conscience, have few emotions and display an inability to have any feelings, sympathy or empathy for other people.”  These people, Boddy adds, are “extraordinarily cold, much more calculating and ruthless towards others than most people are and therefore a menace to the companies they work for and to society.”

Psychopaths make it to the top of successful corporations, Boddy says, because they take advantage of the “relative chaotic nature of the modern corporation,” including “rapid change, constant renewal” and high turnover of “key personnel.”  They exhibit a combination of “charm” and “charisma,” which makes “their behaviour invisible” and “makes them appear normal and even to be ideal leaders.”

Boddy argues in a recent issue of the Journal of Business Ethics that psychopaths working in senior positions in corporations and in financial corporations had a major part in causing the global financial crisis.

He says corporate psychopaths  “largely caused the crisis” because their “single-minded pursuit of their own self-enrichment and self- aggrandizement to the exclusion of all other considerations has led to an abandonment of the old-fashioned concept of noblesse oblige, equality, fairness, or of any real notion of corporate social responsibility.”

Boddy told Bloomberg View columnist William D. Cohan that senior managers should be screened to insure they are not psychopaths and actually care about others.

In his book, Boddy says that psychopaths destroy the morale and emotional well-being of fellow workers  “by humiliating them, lying about them, abusing them, using organisational rules to control them, not giving them adequate training, blaming them for mistakes made by the psychopath, bullying them and coercing them into unwanted sexual activities … .”

Boddy is a former professor of marketing at the Nottingham Business School at Nottingham Trent University in the United Kingdom and a former co-founder/director of a pan-regional, Asia-Pacific marketing research company that was sold to a marketing conglomerate in 2002 for a reported $80 million.