What Business Students Can Learn From J.R. and “Dallas”

How do you know it’s 2012? Because remix culture is alive and well, and it’s infiltrated our ’80s prime-time soaps — this time in a Texas-sized way. Dallas is back on the air after 20 years, and the seminal evening soap opera returned to the air waves this week with a, um, bang. The difference? Twenty years have passed, and this time it’s on cable. If you’ve never seen Dallas, here’s what you need to know: Texas. Oil. Money. Booze. Rich, dysfunctional family. And the malevolent sumbitch in the big Stetson? That’s J.R. Ewing. Students (read: people) everywhere can take inspiration from the oil magnate often likened to a Texas version of The Godfather. On business, life, and spectacularly coifed eyebrows, the ruthless (and now geriatric) Dallas drunk has a few lessons for all.

  1. Don’t Live By The Golden Rule

    “Don’t forgive and never forget. Do unto others before they do unto you. And third and most importantly: keep your eye on your friends, because your enemies will take care of themselves.”

    That’s the way that J.R. does it.

  2. Everything’s Bigger in Texas

    “Come on, darlin’, let’s work this party.”

    If you’re stubborn as soot, larger than life (and your hat is, too), and the sweat that got you there reeks of booze — Texas is king. Especially if you’re in the oil and gas business. For years, the most prominent Texas oil magnates have resided in behemoth Houston, but its rivalry with Dallas is alive and well. Dallas, like Dallas, prides itself on its ostentatious (read: flashy, yet wholly dysfunctional) ways. In TV land, the champion is clear: Houston is out, Dallas is in. And Texas is the biggest winner of them all.

  3. Be Ruthless

    And don’t think twice about it. J.R. Ewing is only as effective as he is mean. It’s not the best strategy for everyone, but the calculating oil man certainly knows how to get things done. Focus on the important things, and blaze a path through anyone who would have otherwise. In his own words, “the world is littered with the bodies of the men who tried to stick it to ol’ J.R. Ewing.”

  4. Win

    “I almost forgot how much fun it was grinding you into the dirt.”

    It’s one little word, but the most important lesson J.R. took from his daddy. If you don’t think life’s a contest, you’re not playin’ the right game. And if you’re not winning, fight until you are. J.R. wheeled and dealed within his industry until he learned the entire trade, and positioned himself to be a man of industry-wide influence. Not to mention how he maneuvers his family’s politics.

  5. Stay Current; Stay Gold

    In the new Dallas, the Ewings have cell phones. And it’s clear there will be in-show debates about alternative energy. (Are those the faint chants of “Drill, baby, drill!” coming from the Southfork grounds?) You’ve got to stay relevant to retain power over time, meaning that modernization along with the world is key to maintaining any strongholds. Larry Hagman himself is a spokesman for solar power, and his California residence is a celebrated testament to green energy efforts. But don’t go changin’ too much — no matter the decade (or the network), J.R. Ewing will always be a shark.

  6. Get Shot


    “I knew you was a slow learner but I thought even you’d know by now that ol’ J.R. always lands on his feet.”

    Especially if you want to be remembered fondly enough to be called back in 20 years. If there’s anything to be said for J.R. Ewing, it’s this: the man can turn up the drama. “Who shot J.R.?” gave birth to the season-ending cliffhangers, now a television standard. The single gun shot that closed the original series was a haunting echo of its contribution to television history; the off-screen noise was the period at the end of the first Dallas’ story. If you’re a business student, you should stay out of business that will get you shot — but it’s a darn good way to become a legend.

  7. Dysfunction is Profitable

    “Saying terrible things is part of my charm, I suppose.”

    If there’s one thing you can learn from J.R. Ewing, it’s that balance is bull. The oil man fought and clawed his way to the top of his business and his family, and he certainly didn’t get there by being stable. He’s a womanizer; he wheels and deals, and J.R. wants to crush everyone in his way. The Ewing Oil heir has a dramatic, dysfunctional home life at Southfork, and it’s allowed him to become the ruthless profit gouger that he is. A little off-kilter? Come from a big, mean, crazy family? Take heart, TV watcher. You’ll be well-prepared for the big, bad business world.

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