A world of We­in­steins

He is also a jerk and a bully, writes cul­tural critic Emily Yoffe. Lead­ers like that are bad for busi­ness.

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - Twit­ter: @Emi­lyYoffe Emily Yoffe is a con­tribut­ing editor at the At­lantic.

Afew weeks ago, Har­vey We­in­stein was one of the most pow­er­ful men in Hollywood. Now he is a ru­ined mogul, ac­cused of crude, sex­u­ally preda­tory be­hav­ior. Top of­fi­cials at the We­in­stein Com­pany (soon to not be the We­in­stein Com­pany, or per­haps any com­pany at all), in­clud­ing We­in­stein’s brother, Bob, say they had no idea what was go­ing on for decades be­hind closed doors. Let’s put aside for now the du­bi­ous cred­i­bil­ity of th­ese claims of ig­no­rance. What is un­de­ni­ably true is that Har­vey We­in­stein’s ab­hor­rent pub­lic be­hav­ior, to­ward men and women, in front of wit­nesses, should have forced his busi­ness part­ners to take se­ri­ous ac­tion against him years ago. If they had, it’s pos­si­ble that many peo­ple would have been saved from his at­tacks, in­clud­ing the women he as­saulted in pri­vate — and the spec­tac­u­lar dis­so­lu­tion of the We­in­stein Com­pany wouldn’t be a busi­ness school case study in how ig­nor­ing the bad acts of a key em­ployee can wipe out the whole oper­a­tion.

We­in­stein has phys­i­cally as­saulted mul­ti­ple men — Bob knows, be­cause he was one of them. Har­vey We­in­stein be­rated, hu­mil­i­ated and threat­ened sub­or­di­nates, col­leagues and oth­ers in no­to­ri­ous spit­tle-flecked tirades. In a 2002 New Yorker pro­file, Ken Auletta

de­scribed We­in­stein as “a man with lit­tle self-con­trol, whose tone of voice and whose body lan­guage can seem dan­ger­ous; at times, he ap­pears about to burst with fury, his fists closed, his teeth clenched, his large head shak­ing as he loses the strug­gle to con­tain him­self.” We­in­stein used his power and con­nec­tions to in­tim­i­date and re­tal­i­ate against any­one who dared to cross or try to ex­pose him. He didn’t just pro­mote his own films, he also reg­u­larly leaked to the press dam­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion about peo­ple who op­posed him.

Yes, We­in­stein was a cre­ative and mar­ket­ing ge­nius; he col­lected Os­car nom­i­na­tions with the same fa­cil­ity with which he col­lected vic­tims. As long as he made hits, those in a po­si­tion to stop him ig­nored, ex­cused or de­nied what was go­ing on. “He’s known for this out­ra­geous be­hav­ior,” says Robert Sut­ton, a pro­fes­sor of or­ga­ni­za­tional be­hav­ior at Stan­ford Univer­sity and the au­thor of “The No Ass­hole Rule,” a book about de­struc­tive peo­ple in the work­place and how to deal with them. “Peo­ple who are very pow­er­ful and prof­itable, as a so­ci­ety we give them per­mis­sion to act that way, es­pe­cially if they’re rich.”

But there are in­her­ent dan­gers in that li­cense, es­pe­cially for the com­pa­nies that em­ploy such peo­ple, and es­pe­cially if they are high-rank­ing. The busi­ness pro­fes­sors and em­ploy­ment lawyers I spoke to all told me that We­in­stein’s pub­lic be­hav­ior was so aber­rant that he put ev­ery­thing he built — in­clud­ing Mi­ra­max, led by the We­in­stein brothers un­til 2005, and the We­in­stein Com­pany, which they founded that same year — in jeop­ardy.

Even now, as high-rank­ing ex­ec­u­tives claim ig­no­rance of We­in­stein’s sex­ual vi­o­la­tions, no one’s deny­ing knowl­edge of his pub­lic phys­i­cal as­saults, which also reach back decades and fol­low a pat­tern. Pro­ducer Alan Brewer re­counted to The Wash­ing­ton Post one episode from early in We­in­stein’s ca­reer, circa 1984. We­in­stein be­came en­raged when he couldn’t lo­cate Brewer for a few hours on the day be­fore a pre­miere, and when We­in­stein fi­nally found him, as The Post re­ported, We­in­stein “lunged at him and be­gan punch­ing him in the head, Brewer said; the skir­mish tum­bled into the cor­ri­dor and then the el­e­va­tor. By the time Brewer reached the street, in­tent on never as­so­ci­at­ing with the We­in­steins again, he said, Har­vey was plead­ing for him to stay.”

Jour­nal­ist Re­becca Trais­ter re­cently wrote for New York mag­a­zine about an en­counter with We­in­stein that she and her then-boyfriend, fel­low jour­nal­ist An­drew Gold­man, had in 2000. The pair went to a book party We­in­stein was host­ing at a New York ho­tel, and Trais­ter asked We­in­stein about whether his stu­dio was with­hold­ing a movie for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons. We­in­stein be­gan scream­ing ep­i­thets at her, and when Gold­man tried to in­ter­vene, We­in­stein pushed him down a set of steps and dragged him out­side in a head­lock. Dozens of pho­tog­ra­phers snapped away, but Trais­ter wrote that no pho­tos have ever sur­faced.

Al­though We­in­stein ap­pears to have reg­u­larly bul­lied his way to­ward ef­fec­tive dam­age con­trol, his vo­latile tem­per­a­ment was widely known. The tele­vi­sion se­ries “En­tourage,” for in­stance, par­o­died his out­bursts through a char­ac­ter called “Har­vey Wein­gard.”

And this past week, the Wall Street Jour­nal de­scribed a We­in­stein Com­pany ex­ec­u­tive con­fer­ence gone bad: “In about 2011, af­ter an ar­gu­ment over how to al­lo­cate the stu­dio’s re­sources be­tween their re­spec­tive movies, Har­vey We­in­stein punched his brother in the face in front of about a dozen other We­in­stein Co. ex­ec­u­tives, knock­ing him to the ground, said two peo­ple who were present. ‘I’ve been as­saulted!’ Bob yelled, ac­cord­ing to those peo­ple. Bob, who was blood­ied, wanted to press charges, but was talked out of it, ac­cord­ing to a per­son fa­mil­iar with the in­ci­dent.”

Bob We­in­stein re­cently re­counted to the Hollywood Re­porter what be­ing his brother’s part­ner was like: “Har­vey was a bully, Har­vey was ar­ro­gant, he treated peo­ple like s--- all the time . . . . I had to clean up for so many of his em­ployee messes.” But that clean-up, by Bob We­in­stein’s ac­count, of­ten in­volved telling peo­ple: “Leave. Leave, please leave.” All the ex­perts I con­sulted con­curred that al­low­ing work­place vi­o­lence, and telling abused em­ploy­ees to get out, is the wrong cor­po­rate re­sponse. (Bob him­self has been char­ac­ter­ized by the Wall Street Jour­nal as a vo­latile bully, if less abu­sive than his older brother.)

Chris­tine Po­rath, a busi­ness pro­fes­sor at Ge­orge­town Univer­sity and the au­thor of “Mas­ter­ing Ci­vil­ity: A Man­i­festo for the Work­place,” says the costs of such lead­ers are enor­mous. Ter­ri­fied em­ploy­ees don’t per­form well; turnover is con­stant and costly.

Jen­nifer Drobac, a law pro­fes­sor at In­di­ana Univer­sity who stud­ies sex­ual ha­rass­ment and cor­po­rate law, says a re­ac­tion like Bob We­in­stein’s to such in­ci­dents “sends a mes­sage: Ei­ther the com­pany en­dorses this be­hav­ior or they don’t care.” She notes that there are com­monly ac­cepted terms for the be­hav­iors Har­vey We­in­stein openly en­gaged in at work — phys­i­cal as­sault, ver­bal ha­rass­ment and threats — and ap­ply­ing those la­bels makes clear just how derelict his com­pa­nies were in not ad­dress­ing what was go­ing on. She said this ne­glect put ev­ery­thing as­so­ci­ated with the We­in­stein brand at se­ri­ous risk of the kind of le­gal and rep­u­ta­tional blow­back that is hap­pen­ing now. “I tell my law stu­dents, if you have a part­ner­ship, you need to be mon­i­tor­ing the be­hav­ior of your part­ners,” Drobac says. “You share li­a­bil­ity.”

Philip Gor­don, a Mas­sachusetts em­ploy­ment lawyer, says that it is es­sen­tial that com­pa­nies ag­gres­sively ad­dress a pat­tern of pub­lic be­hav­ior like We­in­stein’s. “You have an obli­ga­tion to in­ves­ti­gate, re­me­di­ate and train — to fix the prob­lem,” he says, adding that when it’s clear re­me­di­a­tion won’t work, then ter­mi­na­tion may be the only op­tion. Gor­don points out that call­ing in out­side in­ves­ti­ga­tors to doc­u­ment We­in­stein’s be­hav­ior would have had an­other salu­tary re­sult: “Once they in­ves­ti­gated the work­place vi­o­lence, how could they not have turned up the sex­ual ha­rass­ment?”

Of­fi­cers at We­in­stein’s com­pa­nies main­tain they just didn’t know that for decades he used his po­si­tion and en­listed sub­or­di­nates to ar­range for young women to be brought to ho­tel rooms, os­ten­si­bly for meet­ings, where he would ap­pear in a bathrobe or naked and try to force them into sex­ual acts. Th­ese de­nials are no longer cred­i­ble in light of the re­port­ing by the New York Times, the New Yorker and oth­ers, which re­vealed in­ter­nal dis­cus­sions about pay­outs to vic­tims of We­in­stein’s sex­ual pre­da­tion. TMZ says it ob­tained We­in­stein’s 2015 em­ploy­ment con­tract, which stated that if the We­in­stein Com­pany had to pay set­tle­ments for his sex­ual or other mis­con­duct, he must re­im­burse the com­pany and pay an es­ca­lat­ing set of fines: $1 mil­lion for the fourth and any sub­se­quent in­stance.

When I re­lated this to Drobac, she said: “That’s shock­ing. It demon­strates the com­pany knew and was will­ing to sac­ri­fice th­ese tar­gets for the prof­itabil­ity of the com­pany. They were will­ing to have the preda­tor in­dem­nify his be­hav­ior and were will­ing to keep him within the com­pany.”

The We­in­stein Com­pany put up with al­most any­thing to keep its rain­maker. But Po­rath notes that such a leader can af­fect a busi­ness’s rep­u­ta­tion. “When the word gets out about rude­ness and in­sta­bil­ity, peo­ple have a neg­a­tive im­pres­sion of the brand, and that af­fects cus­tomer loy­alty.”

In­deed. In a few short weeks, We­in­stein has per­formed an amaz­ing brand turn­around. His epony­mous com­pany — which ex­perts say will prob­a­bly have to be sold, even af­ter it fired him — no longer con­jures an im­age of in­tel­li­gent, en­gag­ing, in­de­pen­dent films; it now in­deli­bly stands for one of the big­gest creeps to ever stalk Hollywood.

Har­vey We­in­stein’s pub­lic be­hav­ior was so aber­rant that he put ev­ery­thing he built in jeop­ardy.


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