Davos Notebook

The answer, dear bankers, lies not in yourselves, but in Shakespeare

January 31, 2009

Many of the bankers blamed for the world financial crisis have been conspicuous by their absence from this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos.

They haven’t just missed conventional debate on how to prevent a re-run. They’ve also skipped the chance to hear Richard Olivier, theatre director and son of acting legend Laurence Olivier, draw comparisons between the masters of the universe and Shakespeare’s murderous tragic hero Macbeth.

“Macbeth didn’t set out to be evil,” Olivier told Reuters. On the face of it, he was the kind of bright, ambitious young man who could be trusted with big investment decisions. Equally, Lady Macbeth, who stands for “the familial culture of an organisation” thought she was just nurturing his career.

The positive role model is the low-key Malcolm, who, after all the bloodshed, quietly and without ego, ushers in a new order at the end of the play.

Olivier’s sessions in the Swiss ski resort have also focused on sustainability, with the help of Shakespeare’s comedy “As You Like It,” which distinguishes between the oppressive world of the court and the creative, collaborative forest.

“People cut off from nature will make unnatural decisions,” is the message it holds for the chastened business elite, says Olivier, whose company Olivier Mythodrama gives Shakespearean lessons in business leadership the world over.

He is suitably modest about audience reaction, but his wife Shelley Olivier says he receives ovations that would have made his father proud.

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