Leaders of the celluloid world

Meet the white collar warriors whose fictional shenanigans have stamped a lasting impression on the collective consciousness.

Executive heroes (and anti-heroes) have displaced the cowboys and other outdoor he-man adventurers of more simple times to become a powerful entertainment genre of their own.

Some are masters of the universe, who elicit admiration and envy from both sexes, regardless of the rightness of their ever-decisive actions. Others become icons of workplace wrongness and too-close-to-the-bone reminders of their real life counterparts – the nightmare bosses, colleagues and business associates we'd cross streets and oceans to avoid.

So who are the white collar warriors whose boardroom shenanigans have stamped the most lasting impression on the collective consciousness?

Gordon Gekko: Wall Street - High finance super-baddie:
Suave, ruthless, amoral. His 1987 portrayal of the Wall Street raider netted Michael Douglas a Best Actor Oscar and made him both the poster boy of eighties excess and an enduring corporate legend, despite his character's eventual downfall. Just as Humphrey Bogart never actually directed Sam to “play it again” in Casablanca, so Gordon did not utter the three word line with which his character will be forever synonymous. Misquote notwithstanding, his pithy summation of the capitalist system, “greed is good” remains in the common parlance 25 years on. Not just ruthless with a capital 'r', Gekko also pulls off sartorial splendour with a capital 's' –from his trademark slicked back hair to his sleek black power suits and braces.

David Brent: The Office – Death by irritation
Ingratiating, self deluding, oblivious… Brent is the general manager of stationary company Wernham Hogg and the epitome of the nightmare suburban boss in Ricky Gervais's hit mockumentary of 2001. His frequent foot-in mouth-isms and subsequent clumsy retractions, his unassailable confidence in his own talents –including motivational speaking, dancing and stand-up comedy – and his overweening belief that staff revere him as a friend and mentor combine to make him an expert in the art of losing friends and irritating people. Nourish career coach Sally-Anne Blanshard says toned-down versions of David Brent exist in real life and can seem happy and jovial, until better acquaintance shows otherwise. “They're inappropriate but there's nothing you can do,” she says. “Nothing will change. People just leave rather than stick around for this.”

Miranda Priestly: The Devil wears Prada – The cruel dictator
Icy, capricious, perfectionist… Meryl Streep played the on-screen antagonist of Lauren Weisberger's chick-lit novel of the same name in 2006. Allegedly inspired by legendary American Vogue editor Anna Wintour, for whom Weisberger once worked, Runway magazine editor-in-chief Miranda Priestly rules by fear. Her long suffering team, including her new PA Andrea, the film's protagonist, is conditioned to start jumping before the Machiavellian Miranda has specified to what height they must rise. The real world can be a lonely place for authoritarian types like this, Blanshard warns. “They typically take on a lot of responsibility and get left alone by others.”

George Costanza: Seinfeld – Mr Incompetence
Neurotic, sneaky, selfish…The question has to be asked – could George ever do anything right? Honest? Good? The anti-hero of the 1990s New York comedy fave Seinfeld, he is a jack of all white collar trades and master of none. He's tried his hand at real estate broking, manuscript reading and sales and can list plotting, scheming and awkward social encounters as special skills on his CV. Dysfunction is his middle name and the complexity of his machinations often appear to be in inverse proportion to the advantages he expects them to deliver. “He's an example of erratic behaviour leading to erratic results,” Blanshard says. “There's no goal or direction and he leaves a trail of disaster.”

Don Draper: Mad Men – The suave persuader
Decisive, charismatic, enigmatic… Jon Hamm's 1960s ad man Draper is the quintessential man's man – an uber-masculine go-getter whom men admire and women desire. How else to explain the ubiquitous appeal of the fictional Sterling Cooper creative director, who pipped Barak Obama and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to the number one spot on AskMen's 2009 list of the world's most influential men? And he's got the look – sharp, polished and slick – that every company wants for their heavy hitters, says corporate stylist Wendy Mak. “People in really senior positions generally do become comfortable and confident with their skills, their personality – themselves,” Mak says. “It reflects in how they present themselves.”

Who is your favourite fictional workplace mover and shaker?

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