Fortune | Chairman of the Bard
By Julie Schlosser
Ken and Carol Adelman like nothing more than to see a CEO in tights. They aren't voyeurs; rather, the two former Republican politicos run Movers & Shakespeares, which uses lessons from the Bard to teach business skills to executives and MBA candidates. The programs, which run from two hours to a full week, cover everything from "change management" (The Taming of the Shrew) to diversity training (The Merchant of Venice). FORTUNE caught up with the Adelmans to discuss why the revered playwright resonates in the workplace.
Q: How did your Beltway backgrounds lead to corporate Shakespeare?
CAROL: Well, I would find myself coming home and saying to Ken, "I had a Polonius today at the office." Without batting an eyelash, he would say, "Did you handle it like Gertrude or Claudius?"
Q: Why Shakespeare and not, say, Goethe?
CAROL: Shakespeare had the greatest insights into human nature--the most important part of running a business is understanding people. He also told the greatest stories, and stories are the best learning tools.
Q: Was Stratford-upon-Avon a business mecca?
KEN: Shakespeare was a wonderful businessman. Great artists like Michelangelo lived off the state, but Shakespeare was a capitalist. He had to appeal to popular opinion and popular taste.
Q: You use Henry V for most of your presentations. Why?
CAROL: It has motivation, leadership, and team building. Henry turns liabilities into assets. For instance, his outnumbered troops use the longbow, which helps them beat the French. He also exemplifies why mergers are better than acquisitions: He is "awarded" Kate, the daughter of the French king, in a war, but woos her anyway.
Q: Give me the Shakespearean link to a few notable names: George W. Bush?
KEN: George W. and Prince Hal have a lot in common. They both were born into a royal family, had a wayward youth with a lot of drinking, and seemed unpromising. Then they go to war: By the end of Henry V, Hal has become an outstanding leader like Bush is today.
Q: Ken Lay?
KEN: Julius Caesar. Lay may think he's been stabbed, but really it's his blinding arrogance that make him most like Caesar.
Q: Bill Clinton?
KEN: Claudius. Competent in a governmental basis but with tremendous personality flaws.
CAROL: Despite the fact that he murdered his brother, then married his wife, throughout the play he is shown as a very competent king.
Q: At the end of your sessions you dress participants in costumes. Have you put any executives in tights?
KEN: Joseph Allen, the chairman of Veridian, donned tights and a codpiece. And we got Don Rumsfeld to play a king....
CAROL: But he didn't wear the tights.