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Unethical 20th century business leaders: Were some of them corporate psychopaths? The case of Robert Maxwell

Clive R. Boddy (Department of Leadership, Work and Organisations, Middlesex University Business School, London, UK)

International Journal of Public Leadership

ISSN: 2056-4929

Article publication date: 9 May 2016

876

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to present evidence to examine the possible psychopathy of Robert Maxwell, a notorious figure in UK business history.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper presents research which retrospectively applied a tool to measure whether leading figures in twentieth century business history could be classified as being corporate psychopaths. As background to this idea, psychopaths and corporate psychopaths are defined. A measure of corporate psychopathy is explored as an aid to identifying corporate psychopaths in business history. This measure is then used in relation to senior corporate executives who have been nominated as potential corporate psychopaths and to Robert Maxwell in particular.

Findings

The paper concludes that at least some ethical scandals and failures such as those at The Daily Mirror have been characterized by the presence of CEOs who scored highly on a measure of corporate psychopathy. Maxwell’s fraudulent raiding of corporate pension funds crossed ethical and legal borders. Furthermore, Maxwell’s fraudulent looting of those pension funds crossed generational boundaries; stealing from older people’s pension funds and thereby leaving younger people/investors with less to inherit. Maxwell also had an international business empire and so his fraud had effects which crossed geographic borders. The paper concludes that using an historical approach to the study of potential corporate psychopaths illuminates what types of organizational outcomes corporate psychopaths may eventuate.

Originality/value

The paper is the first to use an historical approach to the study of potential corporate psychopaths.

Keywords

Citation

Boddy, C.R. (2016), "Unethical 20th century business leaders: Were some of them corporate psychopaths? The case of Robert Maxwell", International Journal of Public Leadership, Vol. 12 No. 2, pp. 76-93. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJPL-12-2015-0032

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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