James Bond villains and their poor business planning

We review the business exploits of past Bond villains to glean valuable lessons from their spectacular commercial failures.

Most James Bond villains sought world domination. Several, however, yearned instead for financial gain. Although their devious plots varied, all were psychopaths obsessed with seizing commercial opportunity through violent means—and most treated employees abysmally. Although Bond thwarted (and killed) all of them, in most cases he needn’t have bothered: their schemes would have failed under the weight of their own miscalculations. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of James Bond films—and the impending release of Skyfall, his latest adventure—we reviewed the most notable business exploits of Bond villains past to glean valuable lessons from their spectacular commercial failures.


Auric Goldfinger (Goldfinger, 1964)
Owner, Enterprises Auric A.G., Switzerland

Industry: Airline furniture manufacturing
Labour relations: Difficult. An all-criminal contracted workforce demonstrates little employer loyalty.
The business plan: Increase the value of Goldfinger’s own considerable gold holdings by detonating a “dirty” nuclear warhead inside the U.S. Bullion Depository at Fort Knox, Ky., rendering the American gold reserve radioactive and useless for 58 years.
Plausibility: Preposterous. Even considering Fort Knox’s sturdy granite, concrete and steel construction, standing outside while detonating the nuclear device seems profoundly unwise.
Better plan: Wait. Had Goldfinger been more patient, the value of his personal holdings would have increased markedly after the U.S. deregulated the gold standard in 1971.


Francisco Scaramanga
(The Man with the Golden Gun, 1974)
Assassin, undisclosed location

Industry: Contract assassination, intellectual property theft, renewable energy
Labour relations: Messy. He simultaneously dates and employs Andrea Anders—then shoots her for bedding Bond.
The business plan: Assassinate a scientist and steal his “solex agitator,” a solar-power component thought to ameliorate the 1970s energy crisis. Sell to highest bidder.
Plausibility: Achievable. It’s unlikely the solex agitator could perform as advertised—even four decades later solar technology can’t release humanity from oil dependence—but prospective buyers might not have appreciated that at the time.
Better plan: Become a pitchman for handgun manufacturers. If still supplementing his income with the occasional assassination, he should use less distinctive ammunition.


Max Zorin (A View to a Kill, 1985)
CEO, Zorin Industries, France

Industry: Semiconductor manufacturing
Labour relations: Abysmal. Zorin’s decision to personally drown and machine-gun loyal employees in large numbers doubtless reduces severance costs, but also imperils worker retention, a critical mistake in the hightech sector. This stuff gets around.
The business plan: Monopolize the global microchip market by destroying Silicon Valley competitors with a man-made earthquake.
Plausibility: Middling. In 1985, Silicon Valley accounted for 40% of global semiconductor output, so he struck the right target. But he would have also annihilated many of his potential customers—Bay Area PC makers.
Better plan: Invest in actual semiconductor R&D. Between late 1985 and today, competitor Intel Corp. shares increased by more than 5,000%.


Elliot Carver (Tomorrow Never Dies, 1997)
CEO, Carver Media Group Network, Germany

Industry: Media, software
Labour relations: Poor. Shoots dead an outside consultant, an American “techno-terrorist,” because he has “outlived his contract.”
The business plan: Provoke war between Britain and China using a stealth catamaran vessel, kill China’s political leadership by destroying Beijing with a cruise missile, install a puppet ruler, and secure “exclusive broadcasting rights in China for the next 100 years.”
Plausibility: Hare-brained. Foreign corporations have long been frustrated with China’s restrictive regulatory environment for foreign investment, but the 80-million member Chinese Communist Party’s politics are Byzantine. The chances of successfully installing a pliant new general secretary are low.
Better plan: License miraculous stealth catamaran technology to naval shipbuilders.


Le Chiffre (Casino Royale, 2006)
Private banker, no fixed address

Industry: Financial services
Labour relations: Decent. A positive outlier rarely seen murdering his employees.
The business plan: Short-sell stock in aerospace firm Skyfleet, then drive down its share price by bombing the company’s prototype aircraft.
Plausibility: Lukewarm. Financially sophisticated Le Chiffre could have plausibly hid the proceeds. But by adding an act of terrorism on American soil to his securities fraud, Le Chiffre dramatically increased the odds of prosecution under U.S. laws greatly strengthened after 9/11.
Better plan: Invest in a conservative bluechip dividend portfolio and enjoy the same high-flying lifestyle—with a much lower risk of being summarily executed by the international intelligence community.