Trump’s Wharton Strategy

Between 1965 and 1968, Donald Trump studied a Bachelor of Business at the Wharton Business School, University of Pennsylvania. Wharton featured Trump in 125th anniversary material. Wharton’s knowledge may have influenced Trump’s successful presidential election campaign.

 

Trump learned from Wharton’s emphasis on financial engineering and tax arbitrage to self-finance his campaign. He leveraged licensing the Trump name to gain free media and social media coverage without spending money on expensive campaign advertising. He studied Republican competitors and Democrat opponents and exploited their weaknesses.

 

Wharton’s curricula illustrates how Trump could do this. He studied the United States tax code. He studied power-based negotiation and probably non-cooperative game theory. Trump attracted advisors like Peter Thiel and Anthony Scaramucci, and proponents like Dilbert creator Scott Adams who share similar insights in their books.

 

The Wharton experience gave Trump a grounding in deal-making. Trump benefited from Reagan era neoliberal financialisation. He built an image via The Art of the Deal and The Apprentice as a tough, commercial decision-maker. He adopted a similar stance in his book Great Again (aka Crippled America) on his public and social policy views.

 

Yet Trump left this knowledge out of his Trump University curricula and training materials. His failed students might have done some background research on what he learned at Wharton. They could have saved money – and instead studied Wharton Professor Richard G. Schnell’s Bargaining for Advantage: Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People.

 

17th June 2013: Becoming Heisenberg

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=7irVr3OW29s

 

I’m a late-comer to Vince Gilligan’s television series Breaking Bad. Most people are waiting for Season 5’s second half in August. I’m at the end of Season 1. Walter White’s (Bryan Cranston) transformation from “Mr. Chips into Scarface” (Gilligan) might find its way into a PhD chapter.

 

A pivotal scene from Season 1 occurs during the finale of episode 6 ‘Crazy Handful of Nothin’‘. White has just shaved his hair due to chemotherapy. He confronts crystal methamphetamine dealer Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz) who beat up White’s partner Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). White’s bargaining leverage is the fulminated mercury he has bought with him as a small incendiary explosive, and which the episode foreshadowed in a high school chemistry class. The scene is a great negotiation clip that illustrates the madman theory in grand strategy and nuclear deterrence.

 

More significantly, it is the moment that White takes Action, and first transforms from a mild-mannered chemistry teacher (and former graduate student researcher) into his alter ego, Heisenberg. It’s a moment of Metic intelligence (craft, cunning, skill, wisdom). I’m looking forward to how White evolves, and what the consequences of his decisions are, in the remainder of Breaking Bad.

NIN’s HD Lights In The Sky Tour Footage

Trent Reznor has released 404gb of raw, unedited HD tour footage from three shows on Nine Inch Nails‘ 2008 Lights In The Sky tour.  The footage is available as a peer-to-peer BitTorrent file.

An interesting pattern emerges about the reasons for Reznor’s BitTorrent tactics and Christmas gifts to fans.  Several weeks ago Reznor indicated to fans that an official DVD project for the tour had fallen through after a negotiation breakdown with a production company.  Whilst researching this 2008 conference paper and presentation I found out that Reznor knew in December 2006 about the Pirate Bay leak of NIN’s unreleased Closure DVD (Halo 12), a project still held up by licensing negotiations.

As I suggested in the paper, Reznor is using BitTorrent hyperdistribution to side-step negotiation breakdowns.  You can visualise the backward induction of decision tree payoffs or the real options analysis.  It’s a win-win situation for Reznor and NIN’s fans: Reznor breaks the deadlock and releases ‘unreleasable’ projects which probably have significant, unrecoverable sunk costs.  Fans get the raw, unedited material for user-generated content.  Behind this strategic rationale is a positive feedback loop that keeps NIN and Reznor relevant, generates buzz marketing and media coverage, and enhances Reznor’s bargaining power in negotiations.  The losers in this reshaped value net are the traditional record companies, their retail distributors and music industry lawyers.

Frost/Nixon (2008) & Negotiation Games

Ron Howard’s film adaptation of Frost/Nixon (2008) adopts a thriller format in contrast with the Melbourne Theatre Company’s stage production which I saw several months ago.  Salvatore Totino’s cinematography turns David Frost‘s interview into a claustrophobic tit for tat whilst editors Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill linger on the emotional aftermath of Richard Nixon‘s elicited, emotional self-disclosure.

For me the MTC’s version suffered from a first act which established the interview’s circumstances, obscured the dual track negotiations between Frost and Nixon’s advisers, and veered into comedy, before ratcheting up the second act.  Howard avoids this dilemma through taut pacing that has a semi-documentary feel heightened when the characters deliver their monologues straight to the camera.

The cast needs to be stellar for this ensemble film and it delivers.  Frank Langella’s Nixon is a self-tortured leader with feet of clay; I have to now revisit Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal in Oliver Stone’s Nixon (1995) for a comparison.  Michael Sheen’s Frost adopts a chutzpah mask which hides a risk-taking gambit to avoid career demise and the compromises made to financiers.  Kevin Bacon’s Jack Brennan is prepared to take the flak for Nixon.  Sam Rockwell’s James Reston Jr. evokes how research can become an all-consuming quest when your beliefs and passions are on the line, deftly counterpointed by Oliver Platt’s Bob Zelnick who zigs and zags between self-depracating humour and conscientious objector angst.  Matthew Macfayden’s John Birt updates the role he played in Spooks (aka MI5) as a nuanced political operator who must counterbalance Frost’s chutzpah and the resistance it creates for Reston Jr. and Zelnick with keeping the team together, and getting the interview planning, negotiations and logistics done.  Rebecca Hall’s Caroline Cushing and Toby Jones’ Swifty Lazar provide comic relief from the tension and function to advance the film’s plot points.  Langella gets the spotlight for his Nixon portrayal yet the rest of the cast are vital because the plot needs everyone to be a coherent whole.

Playwright and scriptwriter Peter Morgan‘s previous films have explored weighty themes: self-willed blindness to the dark side of charismatic leadership in The Last King of Scotland (2006) and leadership judgment during crisis-driven events in The Queen (2006).  Set after Watergate and Nixon’s presidential pardon, Frost/Nixon explores the commitment costs for a research group that sets out to achieve public justice and the ploys in a complex multi-party negotiation.  There’s far more beyond the heart-to-heart phone call between Nixon and Frost, and Nixon’s final self-disclosure, just as there was more to Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (1987) than Gordon Gecko’s ‘greed is good’ sound-bite.  All sides use psychological tactics to gain momentary bargaining advantages and to leverage power imbalances, from Swifty Lazar’s late night reply on Frost’s opening bid to Birt, Reston Jr. and Brennan’s interruptions of the interview taping at strategic points that are beneficial to their teams.  Frost opts to ‘lure the tiger from the mountain’ (36 Strategies) for Nixon to self-disclose, enraging Reston Jr. and Zelnick who want a front-on attack about Watergate and the Vietnam War.  Nixon uses sleight of mouth patterns to interrupt, stall and throw Frost off guard.  Birt is caught in a position akin to a consultant or line manager: responsible for logistics and having to persuade all parties to move forward.  Anyone who has had to raise money against the odds for a project will wince with familiarity at Frost’s desparate meetings with television network chiefs and advertising agencies.  It’s this pointillism which makes Frost/Nixon even richer than the interview’s climatic revelations and why the film will be perfect for an MBA class on mergers and acquisitions, negotiation and game theory.

Now all I need to see are the Frost/Nixon original interviews . . .

Harvey Weinstein’s Priority Management

The Village Voice‘s Tony Ortega reveals how uber-media mogul Harvey Weinstein organises his priorities, in-progress projects and key stakeholders:

(1) a “Calls you owe” and “Need to call” daily telephone list
(2) a one-line summary of contactees and their needs
(3) a coterie of personal assistants to handle those sensitive emails

The first two are sparse and remind me of David Allen‘s productivity/workflow heuristics Getting Things Done.

Ortega cites an email to Weinstein by former Weinstein Company employee Lori Sale as a model of succinct communication management:

(1) a one-line summary of the background context for negotiations
(2) the deadline for a decision to be made
(3) the spread of negotiation offers made — with financial details and impact
(4) any counterparty offers and response relevant to (2) and (3)
(5) contact protocol and email signature

M&A communication streamlines (1) – (3) while game theory, negotiation and risk management provide frameworks and methodologies for (4).

Ortega’s garbological adventures to discover Weinstein’s strategies for management (communication,
priority & stakeholders) are on par with
HBO’s Entourage television series on deal-making in Digital Hollywood and Nikki Finke’s blog Deadline Hollywood Daily.