CAMBRIDGE, United Kingdom — Corporate figures such as Robert Maxwell and Bernie Madoff, who exhibit psychopathic tendencies, have the potential to destabilize an entire economy, new research warns. A professor from Anglia Ruskin University explains that these individuals, who represent about one percent of the population, possess neither conscience nor empathy. Alarmingly, such personalities can ascend to positions of power within contemporary financial institutions.
Robert Maxwell infamously embezzled millions from the Mirror Group’s pension fund, effectively decimating its shareholder value and relegating pensioners to a life of hardship. Similarly, New York financier Bernie Madoff orchestrated a Ponzi scheme, uncovered in 2008, which swindled investors worldwide out of an estimated $64 billion.
The research implores corporations to take proactive measures to identify and eliminate “corporate psychopaths” to avert financial catastrophe. It warns that while individuals with some psychopathic traits may initially excel in corporate finance, their inherent recklessness and avarice can ultimately lead to the downfall of organizations and potentially the entire economy.
Lead author Professor Clive Boddy scrutinized Madoff’s behavior throughout his lifetime, encompassing his business conduct, trial, and subsequent imprisonment.
“Prominent psychopathic businesspeople, who can be credibly identified as psychopaths, have left their mark in commercial history,” Prof. Boddy contends in the International Journal of Market Research.
“This current article aims to determine whether certain corporate scandals and bankruptcies have been characterized by the presence of high-ranking corporate officials who may be classified as workplace psychopaths. Applying conduct measurements primarily derived from Cleckley’s criteria, and correlated with documented behavior, we have found this to be true.”
1 in 100 people classify as psychopaths
Specifically, approximately 1.2 percent of the adult population meet the criteria for a psychopath, being devoid of conscience, guilt, or the capacity for love or empathy. Madoff’s actions were evaluated against two established psychopathy scales, which include personality traits like superficial charm, apparent intelligence, insincerity, dishonesty, remorselessness, emotional superficiality, lack of self-awareness, composure, and apparent rationality.
The analysis concluded that Madoff exhibited all these behavioral traits and more. He was notorious for his bullying of critics while meticulously projecting an image of rationality and competence to those who mattered to him and his business. His arrogance remained intact even during his incarceration, displaying no remorse for the victims of his crimes.
Prof. Boddy posits that people have often speculated if Bernie Madoff was indeed a corporate psychopath. He affirms that Madoff scored highly on the two psychopathy measures used in this study.
“The article suggests that Madoff’s fraud was a byproduct of his personality and that other individuals with similar personalities, such as Robert Maxwell, Andrew Fastow, Ken Lay, and Albert Dunlap, behaved similarly,” the study author continues.
Boddy concludes that there are likely numerous individuals within the corporate finance sector who exhibit psychopathic traits akin to Bernie Madoff. Therefore, the task for financial corporations and firms, if they wish to avert crises, appears to be the early detection and prevention of such individuals’ rise to power.
Robert Maxwell met his end in 1991 at the age of 68 under mysterious circumstances, falling from his yacht in the Canary Islands. An astounding $998 million remains unaccounted for from his firms. Bernie Madoff, sentenced to 150 years in prison, died in 2021 in a facility for inmates with health needs.
South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.
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