In the previous issue, I wrote about Joan and Peggy, two of the prominent businesswomen featured on the show Mad Men (see "Man men and women of business – Part 1," The Green Sheet, June 8, 2015, issue 15:06:01). In this article, I want to look at two of the prominent businessmen on the show. Specifically, how the series left Don and Roger in its final episode, and what this tells us about business.
Don is the most prominent character on Mad Men, and probably the most famous. He's handsome, charismatic, incredibly creative and articulate. He's the guy you want in the room when closing a deal. But he also has many dark secrets. Born Dick Whitman, the child of a prostitute who died while giving birth to him, he spent his formative years in an abusive, impoverished environment. He stole the identity of an officer he accidentally killed during the Korean War. And he is afflicted with the demons of drink and insecurity.
This comes to the fore in the final episodes of Mad Men after Don takes off without notice to his colleagues or family. He drives from New York to California, has various adventures, and eventually ends up at a New Age retreat center. He undergoes a kind of enlightenment there, and it seems like he has finally achieved inner peace.
But is Don done with advertising for good? It's left open ended at the conclusion of the episode, and series. While meditating with other retreat participants, Don chants "Om," and a smile appears on his face. A moment after that, we see an iconic Coca-Cola commercial from 1970, which shows young "flower children" of various hues singing "I'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony." It's not explicit, but it suggested Don's smile, his moment of enlightenment, signifies a great idea he's just come up with – an idea for a Coke commercial.
Some would say this is a cynical way to think about Don at the end of the series: he's managed to "monetize" enlightenment. But I prefer to think about it differently. Don did the necessary inner work to do what he was born to do: use his creativity to sell things that people want. In this sense, he is the ultimate businessperson and entrepreneur.
In his own way, Roger is also a role model for businesspeople. At the end of the series, he has curtailed some of his excessive behavior (but not his sense of humor) and is honeymooning with his new French wife in Paris. Earlier in the episode, Roger visits Joan and tells her that half his fortune will go to her son, Kevin, the boy he accidentally fathered earlier in the series. This contributes to Joan's decision to devote some of her financial resources to opening her own business, because she knew her child would ultimately be provided for.
The example that Roger offers is how to make a huge success in business, doing so with good humor and sensitivity toward co-workers and employees, and then using his fortune to help others and to enjoy himself. I hope that in my "golden years" in business I am as generous – to others and to myself – as Roger is at the end of Mad Men.
Mad Men is a timely show about business. Even though it was set in the 1960s, it still offers plenty of insights into business today and likely will continue to inspire entrepreneurs for years to come.
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