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There Are No Good Executives

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"The hand that gives is above the hand that takes. Money has no motherland; financiers are without patriotism and without decency; their sole object is gain."

In this setting, all businessmen are some variation of the Corrupt Corporate Executive: not merely greedy and amoral, but actively evil. For them the swindling of customers, abuse of employees, and use of violence to eliminate problems simply comes with the job — or are nice fringe benefits. In this setting, the Honest Corporate Executive is merely a Villain with Good Publicity, and in a twist, who runs Peace & Love Incorporated.

To a certain extent, this is Truth in Television, as greed and amorality are Inherent in the System: the purpose of companies is to generate profits, and the purpose of management is to maximise them. However, this does not always translate into sadism, exploitation, violence, and crime. This is because when a company is not:

  • The sole company operating in that field (i.e. it does not possess a 'monopoly')
  • Able to forge effective working relationships with the other companies operating in its field (to form 'cartels' which possess an 'oligopoly')
  • Able to influence or blackmail the government, press, or organised crime can sometimes be bad for a company to engage in criminal activity — or even too much law-abiding chicanery and ruthlessness. Indeed, on several occasions, perfectly legal exploitation and brutality has resulted in government intervention (as in the USA's 'Gilded Age' to stave off 'The Red Hydra').

For puppy-kicking baby-eating sociopaths who openly flout the law in an otherwise perfectly nice and functional society, this trope can overlap with Artistic License – Economics.

Wealthy entrepreneurs are the only type of 'executive' who do not always fall into this trope. These people are often depicted as independently wealthy Self-Made Men who have wits and spirit enough to carve out their empires, and if not, they at least are in charge and take responsibility for them, tied to them in a way a king may be to his realm. Corporate executives, on the other hand, climb in an already established hierarchy, the leadership (thus also responsibility for any wrongdoing) of which is decentralised into some shadowy group, like "the board of directors"; going back to our feudal analogy, they would have more in common with court intriguers.

This trope is practically ubiquitous in Cyberpunk works.

Compare Capitalism Is Bad.


Comic Books
  • In The DCU, everyone except Bruce Wayne, and his CEO Lucius Fox, is villainous, from Lex Luthor to Morgan Edge, especially now that Ted Kord is dead.
    • Before the Crisis, Morgan Edge was arrogant and obnoxious, but certainly not evil, and he could even show a surprisingly decent side from time to time (refusing to cross a union's picket line, for instance). An evil clone once tried to frame him as being a minion of Darkseid, but Edge was proven innocent. Post-Crisis, the affiliation with Darkseid was declared real, and he is now really and truly evil.
    • Oliver Queen was also a subversion, but has gotten out of the game.
    • Maxwell Lord, the CEO and founder of Justice League International, was arrogant, but ultimately a reasonable man. However, he would descend into full-blown villany with him murdering Ted Kord. Reasons are unknown, but may have involved paranoia regarding the metahuman populace.
    • Steve Dayton (aka Mento) is also a subversion. He's a genius with enough wealth to make Bruce Wayne look middle class. His periods as a bad guy have nothing to do with his money and everything to do with the fact that he has some nasty mental illness issues.
    • Totally averted with R.J. Brande, the wealthy patron of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Depending on the continuity, it's repeatedly been hinted that he's the mode locked future incarnation of Martian Manhunter. Played completely straight, however, with Brande's main business rival Leland McCauley, a backstabbing jerkass of epic proportions.
    • Robin (1993): Jack Drake is never depicted as outright evil, but he's a domestic abuser who didn't even keep a home in the city he kept his son in until he'd gotten injured and needed extensive physical therapy and used Drake Industries to fund his expensive jet-setting lifestyle. He shows no interest in his employees or those who need the medical devices his company sells. When he bankrupted the company, he sold his teenage son's possessions before anything of his own to try and maintain his lifestyle. Lloyd Waite, CEO of Strader Pharmaceuticals, on the other hand, is outright evil and willing to conduct deadly human experimentation of unsuspecting victims.
  • This is completely averted by Scrooge McDuck, of course. Is he a stern, demanding taskmaster? Sure. Is he a hard bargainer who doesn't suffer fools easily? You bet. Is he always ready to exploit whatever openings an opponent might leave him? Absolutely. Is he dishonest, corrupt, or evil like his Evil Counterpart Flintheart Glomgold? Not a chance.
    Scrooge McDuck: It's worth millions! And who needs self respect when you're rich! Ha ha ha ha *subconsciously puts the treasure back in its rightful place and leaves* hahaaaaw nuts!
    • Also averted in the larger Disney Mouse and Duck Comics franchise: while they have their share of corrupt executives such as Flintheart Glomgold, Emil Eagle (usually just a Mad Scientist, but some Super Goof stories also add a billionaire side to parallel Lex Luthor), and John Rockerduck, plus a number of one-shot characters, they also have honest ones such as Scrooge, Depending on the Writer Rockerduck (who anyway never lowers himself to what Glomgold would do), Everett Ducklair (whose answer to finding out some of his hi-tech military weapons had ended up on the black market was to have the culprit tracked down — and promptly hand all evidence to the proper authorities rather than deal with it himself, as he was too honest for such things), and even Mickey's own father in his youth (who, while extremely cynical and unable to trust anyone due an apparent betrayal from his best friends costing him the family ranch, once he struck rich, remained unfailingly honest), and they're shown to be far more effective: Scrooge is the Richest Duck in the World, Rockerduck is more a threat to that title than the less honest Glomgold manages to be, Ducklair is the biggest name in hi-tech products, and Mickey's father could see the 1929 Crash coming and sold his company in time, setting aside money to reduce the impact on the people ruined by it.
  • Over at Marvel, Norman Osborn, aka the Green Goblin, is the poster child for this trope, along with many of Iron Man's enemies, like Justin Hammer and Obadiah Stane.

Fan Fic

  • Subverted to a great extent in the Earth-2706 verse. In both the Ultimate Sleepwalker and Ultimate Spider-Woman series, Corrupt Corporate Executives have expressed their hatred of their honest competitors. According to corrupt executives like Norman Osborn, the Honest Corporate Executives (people like Tony Stark, Brian Braddock, Warren Worthington and Marc Spector) are cowards who are holding the rest of them back. Guys like Stark and Worthington obviously enjoy the wealth and power that comes with their work, but at the end of the day they're really only interested in running their businesses. People like Osborn and Justin Hammer, on the other hand, actively believe that their wealth and power give them the right to lord over the lower classes and do whatever they want to them.


  • J.K. Robertson in the movie Time Chasers was not at all deterred from proceeding on the Time Transport project, even after its inventor returned from a second visit to the future to reveal that the future had changed to one of anarchy as a result of the Time Transport being used as a weapon. In fact, he has the inventor and his love interest arrested, and later pursues them into the past, killing the love interest and murdering his own reluctant companion.
  • Without exception, every single person on the corporate side of UBS in Network is an amoral, money-grubbing monster. The film ends with the main character being shot by a hitman hired by UBS, the voiceover stating that he was killed due to his show's failing ratings.
  • TRON: Legacy had an infamous scene with the Encom boardroom, where they're boasting about their latest and greatest operating system. Alan Bradley, the only subversion in the room, points out that they're charging schools and non-profits a fortune — what are the customers getting in return? The idiot CEO shrugs and says "it has a 12 on the box..." This is meant to demonstrate that the company has fallen from its innovative times under Walter Gibbs and Flynn Sr. while cementing sympathy for Sam's annual practical joke.
  • Pretty much every executive at Clamp Enterprises in Gremlins 2: The New Batch is a complete amoral a-hole except, ironically, the C.E.O. Daniel Clamp who's aloof but otherwise a nice guy. He does do one really douchy thing near the end, but it's to Forster who's a jerk anyways.
  • No one working for IBC as an executive in Scrooged is good. The lead character, Frank Cross, fires an employee over Frank's rather dark idea for a promo of the channel's adaptation of A Christmas Carol (one that's later suspected to have killed an old woman). His former mentor Lew Hayward and current boss Preston Rhinelander are worse and helped shaped Frank into who he is, though Lew, the film's Jacob Marley and Fezziwig stand-in (and as such, in keeping with the former) has seen the error of his ways after his death and helps scare Frank straight, and Bryce Cummings is openly gunning for Frank's job.


  • Jennifer Government has two types of executives: bastards and John Nike, whose idea of viral marketing is murdering customers wearing Nike shoes, so that they can work an 'edgy' angle.
  • Market Forces by Richard Morgan: Mega Corps effectively rule the world, funding wars, rebellions, and dictators for profit. There isn't even a mention of a middle class in the book, and the protagonist who starts off derisive of the whole "cowboy culture" of the Corrupt Corporate Executive becomes more corrupt and violent as the book goes on.
  • Peter F. Hamilton deliberately set out to invert this trope with Julia Evans, the young idealistic CEO of Event Horizon in his trilogy about psychic detective Greg Mandel. She keeps most of her industry in Britain to provide work and a strong economy (of course, this also increases Event Horizon's power and influence within Britain) and quashes potentially harmful technologies rather than make a profit from them.
  • The Dogs of War by Frederick Forsyth is pretty anvilistic about the role business interests played in various bloody African wars. The bitterness the mercenary protagonist feels over this is a major reason behind his Face–Heel Turn at the end. It's also at least partly Truth in Television, as the plot is an allusion to the role that European mining interests played in the Katanga Rebellion in the Congo.
  • In The Gone-Away World, just about every single executive of the two major corporations in the story - the All Asian Investment & Progressive Banking Group and the Jorgmund Corporation - is a vile, heartless bureaucratic scumbucket. In the case of the former, they're willing to force a loan on a country that never asked for it and then invade said country when it can't repay; in the case of the latter, they're willing to kidnap and lobotomize thousands of people just to fuel the machines that feed the Jorgmund pipeline. The main character even provides a system for categorizing these "Pencilnecks," analyzing just how well they've been able to dismantle their own humanity and individuality in pursuit of success. For good measure, a large number of the Jorgmund executives are actually members of an ancient cult of order-worshiping ninjas.
  • "It is difficult to get a man to understand something," said Upton Sinclair, "when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."
  • Averted, but not Inverted, in Atlas Shrugged; there are plenty of Corrupt Corporate Executive types (usually sucking up to their best buddy in government), but the protagonists are generally of the Self-Made Man variety of entrepreneur, and there are plenty of non-businessperson protagonists (Richard Halley being a musician, Hugh Akston being a professor of philosophy, etc.).
  • The Phantom of the Opera: In the original book by Gaston Leroux, this is the reason Erik (the eponymous phantom) could maintain his reign of terror: In Parisian society, it’s not what you do, it’s who you know. Therefore the executives at the Opera and the police are not only corrupt, but Stupid Bosses who don’t care about how to do their job better but only how to practice politics and be discrete about all their problems, making them the perfect victims of Black Mail.
  • Everybody, without exception, in a Jasper Fforde novel. Occasionally he'll drop in a Seemingly Very Nice Corporate Executive, but you only have to read two or three of his books before you no longer fall for it. Every corporate executive is evil, and worse, so is every corporate employee.
  • In Island, if you own, manage, work for or support an oil company, you are an evil, greedy person out to destroy Palan way of life.
  • America (The Book) had a rather pithy reason for this, tying into Inherent in the System. One of the "Question sections" had a brief quiz about decisions to be made by a CEO - option A was the Honest Corporate Executive route, while B was the Corrupt Corporate Executive routeExample 
    If you picked A to any of these questions, congratulations! You have just been fired by the person that answered B.

Live-Action TV

  • Blood Over Water featured Clyde Spendelworth as a Corrupt Corporate Executive. In the novel remake, it's revealed that he was only intending to use the company he inherited the CEO position over as a front for his illegal activities. However, it is revealed that his predecessor was unable to make a very large profit. So the company had to choose between a corrupt CEO or an inept CEO.
  • Joss Whedon has no great love of corporations, either:
    • The most benevolent big business seen in Buffy the Vampire Slayer was Doublemeat Palace, and they were concealing something (albeit something relatively innocuous) from their customers. The demise of the reptile demon Mokita led to bankruptcies and suicides among a few corporate executives as his magic failed them.
    • Angel, of course, revolved around Wolfram and Hart's villainy (though they were lawyers instead of industrialists) and regularly implied awful things about the firm's various corporate clients. (He even described season 5 as going from a small business to the morally gray environment of the corporate world.)
    • And then there's Firefly and the Blue Sun Corporation... Interesting in that, due to the notoriously short run of Firefly, we were given minimal info on Blue Sun, other than a small tidbit on the Commentary, and the fact that River didn't like them. But everyone knows they weren't going to be nice people...
    • And then there's the Dollhouse with Rossum Corp. who provide daily Mind Rape services for the rich and powerful, and that's the least corrupt thing they do.
  • The show Leverage pretty much runs on this trope. Half the episodes are about some evil executive(s) or entire corporations abusing their power. What's sad is that the show's staff has pointed out that many of their 'ridiculous' plots about corporate evil were in fact drawn from real life, only toned down.
  • Star Trek has the Ferengi, which make being a dishonest businessman their hat. While they are pragmatic about it, any Honest Corporate Executive who runs their business for a greater purpose than profit would be branded a heretic and thrown out. Quark, who would be considered a skeevy smuggler and Mean Boss by human standards, is considered too nice by other Ferengi, who accuse him of being soft-hearted and human because he only steals 30% of his workers' tips and sold supplies to starving refugees at just above cost.

Newspaper Comics

Tabletop Games

  • Shadowrun lives and breathes this trope, since the player characters are the tools the corrupt and supremely powerful Mega Corps use against each other.
    • Deconstructed with Horizon, a media and PR MegaCorp based out of Los Angeles. Ever since bursting onto the scene in the wake of Crash 2.0, Horizon has made its name as "the personable company". Employees are actively encouraged to be involved in community events, sports teams, and other personal projects. They are given handsome benefits and free time. The company's business practices are downright respectable compared to the strip mining and law shredding of other major MegaCorps. The online shadow community (which provides running commentary throughout the sourcebooks) has worked themselves into apoplectic fits trying to find some dirt on Horizon and coming up empty. Any dirt. There is absolutely nothing anywhere to suggest that Horizon is anything other than a personable, respectable company, but that fact is driving Shadowland to distraction, since there has to be something underhanded about them, and the fact that they can't find it is downright creepy. After a Shadowland hacker quit his job there and reported on his observations, Horizon's CEO emailed him to thank him for his service, offer him his job back anytime he'd like it, provide up-front answers on various questions the hacker had been looking into, and show his willingness to help him and "his friends" out however he can in the future. Creepy.
    • The Horizon tie-in fiction in the 20th Anniversary Version of the 4th edition core rules does show that Gary Cline, Horizon's CEO, is very likely a sociopath. Seeing as how when a former executive from a rival megacorporation burst into his office intending to kill Cline for ruining his career by getting the better of him in a business deal and took Cline's executive assistant hostage, Gary Cline's response was... to tell his assistant that Gary had been upset with the way his assistant had fumbled a recent project anyway, that he had outlived his usefulness, and Cline then killed his secretary himself. He then congratulated the gunman on his assertiveness and planning skills, and offered him a job with Horizon. The story vignette ends with the guy asking Cline if Horizon has a good vacation plan. And the professional-salesman's smile never left Gary's face the entire time.
    • And then there is the Columbian Subterfuge chapter, where after you get many prisoners out of an Aztlan POW Camp, it turns out Agent 211983 had executed the prisoners and make an extremely sensationalist version of the event. While the atrocities without tampering will be sufficient to incriminate Aztlan, this would had given Shadowland (now Jackpoint) some fuel to discredit Horizon with. And then there was the friendly fire incident... But given how War Is Hell...
    • Storm Front has made it explicitly plain that Horizon actually is no Deconstruction at all — they were merely Affably Evil Villains With Good Publicity all along. Or in some interpretations, they're literally insane (so not evil or amoral but definitely not good). At least the other Mega Corps in the setting acknowledge their amorality to disillusion their reputation among runners and the general public...

Video Games

  • Syndicate. There may have been aversions during the corporations' initial rise to power over the governments, but after the syndicates took over the corporations using such upstanding methods as bribery and murder.
  • Zigzagged all over Street Fighter, specially Street Fighter IV:
    • Seth plays the trope completely straight as the CEO of S.I.N, the (former) weapons division of Shadaloo. He "indulges" in cloning, blackmailing, experimenting on himself, and the highly lethal BLECE project, which relies on ki to create SuperSoldiers.
    • Averted with Ken Masters and Hakan, who apart from being powerful fighters, are CEOs of their own companies and are firmly on the side of good.
  • The Letheian Mining Corporation from Starbound. They are making a killing on erchius, a top-line spaceship fuel, despite knowing fully that reckless mining of the stuff may awaken eldritch abominations that kill everyone and/or mutate them into horrible pink blobs. When this happens at a facility, they initiate "Procedure Alpha1a: Awakening", which is to lock down the place, declare every employee involved dead, write the place off as a loss, and just move on with business.
  • In The Outer Worlds practically every corporate figure is either corrupt or incompetent to some extent with the exception of Sanjar Nandi of Monarch Industries. He stands out by lieu of actively promoting non-exploitative policies and wants to be an Internal Reformist within the governing body of the Colony. Unfortunately, this as well as the fact that his company is actually fairly powerful in it's own right due to owning the planet it's operating on has led to the rest of the board to issue a blockade on his planet, severely diminishing his influence.

Web Comics