‘I’m very happy with my life the way it is’: Alix Godman, McMafia

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What a journey we are embarking upon with BBC One’s drama ‘McMafia’ that kicked off on 1 January. The opening hour included a murder using a caviar knife on an English country estate by Russian heavyweights and a detailed description of how money laundering works on a wet balcony in Tel Aviv during an air raid alert and the threat of falling bombs. The icing on the cake was a tense ending with an invitation from the family’s rival enemy to visit either the Hall of Peace or the Hall of War inside the sumptuous Palace of Versailles.

What is there not to like?

It will be fascinating to watch the organised crime drama unfold over the forthcoming weeks. McMafia author, Misha Glenny, in a recent interview said ‘I don’t want to be moral. I want to show people the way the world works’. It will down to us, the viewers, to decide what is moral and immoral. I can’t wait to see how and where the story will take us, and what side of the line we will each fall. I hope it will demonstrate how hard it can really be to make good decisions and use sound judgement when faced with business and personal dilemmas.

Glenny wrote McMafia ten years ago, tracing the networks of international crime back to the post-Soviet bloc and the increasing fluidity of finance after deregulation. But it feels like it could have been written ten months ago, not ten years. Rebecca Harper, the McMafia character portraying a senior leader from an ethical bank of the ‘highest standards’, states ‘the public have made their feelings clear. The unethical pursuit of profit at the expense of others is no longer acceptable……the problem doesn’t lie with capitalism, but with those capitalists who have put self-interest and short-term profit ahead of the good of the people’. This description could have been written about any one of the global organisations and their leaders who have been marred with ethical breakdowns in the recent past.

Looking Back

The benefit of hindsight is a wonderful thing, but if you think of the high profile corporate scandals over the last ten years, have we really learnt anything at all? The role of corporate values, restoring trust between business and society, defining and aligning purpose to create good societal outcomes, and regulatory focus on ethical conduct and culture have never been more prominent. However, arguably, it can feel like it’s getting worse. In the ‘globalised, hyper-connected world’ that Rebecca describes, the Mossad motto of ‘by deception we will do war’ is positively quoted as the way to do business by the Israeli investor who is keen to launder £100m in “shipping” proceeds through a UK hedge fund firm.

Looking forward

One hour later, the initial robust response of our main character, London hedge fund manager, Alix Godman, of ‘that’s not what we do’ to an invitation to facilitate money laundering, rings hollow. The words of the Israeli investor, ‘these wars are fought in boardrooms, not on the street’, are heavy with meaning in today’s world of post-crisis uncertainty, anger over excessive executive pay and political instability.

Today’s article here in the FT , A better deal between business and society, calls for governments, companies and individuals to remake old ways of working and reform out-of-date governance models. Capitalism needs a new social contract. For businesses, the bottom line is that they have to trade in ways that are competent, ethical and fair – all evidential and trustworthy characteristics – and be seen to do so.

Drawing the line

I’m intrigued where McMafia will take us morally. I suspect it will become hard to tell right from wrong – that’s the reality of what it means to do the right thing in today’s world of disruption, ambiguity and complexity. Godman’s closing defence of ‘I’m very happy with my life the way it is’ in Episode 1 will become a distant memory.

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