This line taken from Mario Puzo’s The Godfather written way back in 1969 is probably one of the most recognized and oft quoted lines from any book. Simply explained the quote means “you will have to do as I say because I know your price (pressure point)”, with the subtle menacing threat of unmentioned consequences just lurking underneath the surface.
In my opinion, The Godfather, the novel not the movie, remains an essential read for all entrepreneurs (present and future). Though the eponymous movie released in 1972 is regularly rated by critiques and fans alike as one of the greatest and the most influential movies ever made in the history of cinema, I have a slight preference for the book over the movie for the engrossing atmosphere it creates, the many little details mentioned and the umpteen quirky characters described who add to the slow burn yet fantastic aura the book creates as you feverishly turn its pages.
For those who haven’t had the good fortune of reading the book, here is a brief, spoiler free synopsis:
Don Vito Corleone is the patriarch of a large Italian mafia family. After having migrated from Sicily (Italy), Don commits small time crimes before gradually rising to head one of the most notorious and influential mafia families in New York. He runs his crime empire of gambling, protection and racketeering with the help of his sons and his legal counsel. Soon, a rival mafia boss, Virgil The Turk, asks Don Vito Corleone to invest in the upcoming and hugely profitable drugs and narcotics business, a request which is turned down by Don. This results in an all-out war between Virgil and Corleone gangs. Don Vito’s youngest son Michael, a former US Marine who has had no interest in the family business until then, ultimately takes over from his father and metamorphoses into a far more ruthless and menacing mob boss than Don Vito Corleone ever was.
Anyone can learn a lot about entrepreneurship from studying in a B school or by listening to TED talks type mentors or even by reading self-help books written by well-known business gurus and consultants but none can give you the insight and mantras to simply yet effectively manage business, competitors, employees and family in dead or alive situations like Don Vito Corleone could. Sample some of his advice:
“Do you spend time with your family? Because a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man”
For most people, entrepreneurship means little or no work-life balance. It is considered fashionable to slog the long hours at work or at meetings, cut off from family or friends, trying to achieve the stiff goals in pursuit of the next big thing. However, The Godfather advices that unless a person is deeply connected to his family, friends and his passion outside of work he can never have the perspective to solve problems, forge strong relationships and take smart decisions for continued success in business. Don Vito reminds us, blood is thicker than water.
“The lawyer with the briefcase can steal more money than the man with the gun”
Though you may feel better connected with your fellow white collar denizens, beware, the rowdy on the street brandishing a machete can take away far little from you than the investor, the bureaucrat, the government servant, the employee, the advisor you regularly deal with. People in high places and long reach can negatively impact your venture and your family a lot more than your average street thug.
“Never hate your enemies. It affects your judgment”
It is easy to hate someone who has outsmarted and defeated you. But Corleone wisdom says don’t hate your enemy, instead turn your hatred into motivation. If you allow hatred to cloud your judgment you will not be able to take clear headed, rational decisions. Hatred might spur you to take hasty, impulsive, short term decisions which could eventually backfire. The Godfather suggests, revenge is a dish best served cold.
“Accidents don’t happen to people who take accidents as a personal insult”
Everything is personal, every bit of stuff that happens every day affects you personally. Even that bolt of lightning striking you is personal. That bird poop falling on your freshly laundered shirt is personal. That motorist splashing dirty water from the road side puddle all over you as you walk on the footpath is personal. And only if you let it affect you personally will you make sure no stone is unturned to keep you and your belongings safe. Only then you will take precautions against all eventualities. Only then your planning will become faultless, your security impregnable and your moves carefully calibrated. Learn from your mistakes and never ever commit them again.
“A friend should always underestimate your virtues and an enemy overestimate your faults”
If a friend or an associate or a partner or a client underestimates your virtue then they may not count much upon your support in tough situations. And when you exceed their expectations on those occasions the bond of friendship between the two of you will get stronger. A classic case of under promise but over deliver.
Conversely, if an enemy overestimates your faults then they think you will not be able to properly execute whatever you undertake. This makes them lower their guard and under estimate your capabilities. This can give you an opportunity to surprise your enemy and gain advantage over them.
While Don Vito Corleone was not someone who could be a role model for us as far as his line of business or his ethics go but his charisma, pragmatism, leadership skills and wisdom are somethings we can surely emulate should we aspire to become successful leaders.
Behind every great fortune there is a great crime – Balzac