Management lessons from the film “The Intern”

“The Intern” Shiju Philippose  |   6 MINS READ June 2, 2021

Cast: Anne Hathaway, Robert De Niro, Nat Wolff
Director: Nancy Meyers
Studio: Warner Bros.
Genre: Comedy

Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) is a 70-year-old widower living in Brooklyn who has grown tired of retirement. To keep himself occupied, he has tried everything from tai chi to yoga to Mandarin lessons and has visited his son and his family across the country many times. So, when Ben spots a flier announcing that an e-commerce fashion site is looking for "senior interns" -retirees willing to work as interns, it seems fated for him to get the position. And he does. His assignment: to assist the website's founder, Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway). But Jules, who is juggling motherhood, wifehood, adulthood, and an e-commerce site beholden to venture capitalists who are agitating for her to hire a more experienced CEO, does not think she needs an intern. Until she is proven wrong.

Ben faces the culture shock as a former phone book company executive who enters the nearly paperless world of Jules' start-up. Despite his apparent Zen, we soon learn that Tai Chi is only one of the ways in which Ben is going through the motions to forestall his restlessness as a retired widower. To fill his time, Ben plays golf, goes to movies, reads; he has taken cooking lessons, learned Mandarin, tried yoga, and used all his frequent flier miles to travel the globe. But something is still missing.

What begins as resistance on Jules’s part soon gives way to respect and appreciation. In a company full of young techies with maybe not so many people skills, Ben is the only person who inspires them to look up from the computers and really engage. Ben shows up and he just listens to her. He does not judge; he just accepts her and brings a level of calm. Jules knows she is not easy to get along with, and that is what he finds great about her. All the things that she is afraid other people find off-putting; Ben sees as indicators of someone of value. He may have wanted to be needed but it turns out she needed him too.

One day, when dropping Jules’ daughter back home, Ben sees her husband get into a car with another woman and drive off. Later, he meets Jules and seems uncomfortable. When they take a business trip together to meet a potential CEO for her company, Ben spills the beans. Jules surprises him by saying that she knew all along. When back, Jules and her husband meet and come clean about the reason for his infidelity. Jules feels that she should sacrifice her job to focus on her marriage. Ben disagrees with her view. A few days later, just as she is about to hand over the reins to the new CEO, her husband meets her in office and tells her not to do so, that she should not give up all that she has worked for, to save something that is doomed to failure. They embrace and say goodbye. As the movie ends, we see Jules joining Ben for his Tai Chi class.

Few Management/ Life lessons from the Movie

1.Healthy Habits are Key to Success

Ben goes to bed by 10 pm and wakes up at a regular time. He also exercises regularly, his favorite being Tai Chi. Regular sleep schedules allow the body to get the proper amount of sleep, regenerate, and strengthen the immune system. Likewise, regular exercise helps with strengthening and improving body functions no matter how old you are. Healthy habits are very important for the success of an entrepreneur.

2.Have someone you can trust in

You must have someone to do delicate tasks such as entering your mother's house to check her computer and delete an email that you sent by accident. The burdens, the problems are less humongous if we have someone to share them with, he or she does not even have to help you solve them. It is enough to have someone who is willing to truly listen to you in times of crisis.

3.No One Can Understand Your Dream Better than You

Jules’ company at 18 months old has already achieved its five-year-goals, but the investors are sceptical about her ability to scale and recommend hiring a CEO. No person and no entrepreneur is perfect and needs to learn from their own mistakes. However, at the same time no one can have a better vision about your company than you do. So instead of giving up on your dreams, it is best to believe in magic and have an undying faith in your dreams and your goals.

4. It is Never Too Late to Learn Something New

Robert De Niro (Ben) in the movie is a 70-year-old retiree who is full of life and is always exploring new things. He gets an opportunity to work as a senior intern in a booming online fashion site. The new technology does not scare Ben. He learns from scratch how to use a computer with the help of his younger colleagues and his grandson who explains to him the meaning of a USB. He understands the importance of embracing the latest in the field of innovation and honors the energy and creativity of the younger generation who are driving today’s tech economy. Like Ben, we should be willing to change with the changing times and willing to come out of our comfort zone to explore the wonders of the New Age World.

5.Be Accessible

Hathaway has no office. She sits at a shared community desk out on the floor with other employees. Even though busy, she is always visible and will talk to anyone who stops her. So, it is very important for any business owner, especially an entrepreneur, to be accessible to everyone in the team, in order to become aware of the grassroots level issues.

6.Keep the faith in yourself

It is possible that after having achieved success, having climbed a mountain, and overcome a series of difficulties, there comes a time when things begin to stagnate or decay, and we have doubts. Am I the best for this? Is this the best option? But when that happens, Ben tells Jules “Remember who did that. You climbed that mountain; sure, you can handle any situation that comes after”.

7.Do not Underestimate People

Hathaway at first underestimates De Niro and undervalues what he might be able to contribute, and she also underestimates her assistant (who has a degree from the University of Pennsylvania). But she quickly corrects this with De Niro’s help. By contrast, De Niro underestimates no one. He is astute at observing, taking it all in, and really getting to know people.

8.Be Accountable, Be Humble, and Maintain Your Integrity

Throughout the film, Hathaway demonstrates a high degree of accountability and integrity related to decisions and the way she conducts business. De Niro walks this talk as well. He demonstrates extreme humility even though he is a seasoned and experienced executive and is obviously significantly overqualified to be an intern.


Shiju Philipose
Portfolio Manager and Course leader
Athena Global Education


Mr. Shiju Philipose has a Postgraduate degree in Industrial Management, with specialization in Organisational Behaviour and he is a University Rank holder.  He has more than 17 years of extensive academic and operational experience in Professional Education and Training and has worked in academic institutions as well as corporates in India, Middle East, and Canada. He is a strong advocate of skill development initiatives and has facilitated many Academia-Industry interface programs. Shiju is a Neuro-Linguistic Programming(NLP) Master Practitioner and has been taking impactful training interventions for the last 10 years.

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