“Leave the gun, take the cannoli.” ~Clemenza
It would be fair to assume that Frank Cava and Ian Mathews started a podcast just for episodes like this. While most see The Godfather as a gangster movie, Frank and Ian see a masterclass in business. In true Godfather fashion, they recorded so much content that they needed to break this episode into a three-part trilogy that Francis Ford Coppola would be proud of. In this episode, they discuss key concepts, such as asking for favors, the only thing a manager wants to hear when they delegate something, your star performers might not make great managers, and losing your temper quickly loses its effect when overused. They also touch on taking advantage of downtime in your career – it is okay to “go to the mattresses!” as well as how Frank used an interviewer’s ego to win his first VP promotion.
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Business Lessons From “The Godfather” (Part 1 of 3)
Any self-respecting Godfather fan would know you can’t make an episode for a show on The Godfather without doing a trilogy. This is part one of Business Lessons from The Godfather. We hope you enjoy it as much as we loved making it. If you’re new here, please hit subscribe. If you’re a returning member, thank you so much for reading. We appreciate everyone that’s helped us get this started. Share it with your friends.
What’s up for you, handsome SOB?
Even before the filters, we looked good.
There’s no doubt. It’s a special day.
This has been a long time in the making. I’m pretty fired up about it.
It’s the day I wanted to do a show. It’s for episodes like this.
We might even retire. This is going to be so good. I have a feeling that we are going to reach the mountain top of shows early in our career that we’re like one-hit wonders. We can’t make more shows after.
It’s so good.
We are talking about lessons you can learn in business from The Godfather. As an Italian-American yourself, I know how much this movie means to you and it’s a movie that you and I often quote and talk about in our business dealings and conversations. We have painstakingly ripped through every scene of this movie on multiple occasions to pull out as much business content as possible. I think the best way to start this is as an Italian, I want to just let you take the floor with what this movie means to the Cava family.
Ian and I were talking about this and I was like, “I’m wearing a suit.” He said, “A suit? I’m going to wear a T-shirt.” I’m like, “No, we’re wearing suits.” When Ian and I went to the annual meeting for Berkshire Hathaway together for the first time, we both wore suits and everyone made fun of us because we looked like we didn’t belong but that’s how serious this is. I put on my gold chain, I haven’t worn it since high school. I got on my big tie. I’m a great-grandson of Italian immigrants. My grandparents, my dad’s parents, a big Italian family with six kids. My granddad and my grandmother together had fifteen siblings.If you're not irreplaceable, you got no business asking for more money. Click To Tweet
This movie came about in the ‘70s when my dad was in his mid-teens and this was a source of pride. We would all get together at Christmas. I moved away so we would go home at Christmas every year and see my grandparents. I’ve seen this movie hundreds of times. Every Christmas from probably middle school through college, we would all get together in my grandmother’s back room. We’d turn it on and if someone would come in, we hear a car pull up the driveway, we’d stop the movie. We’d wait for them to pull up like, “It’s Uncle Chris.” We’d all give Uncle Chris a hug. Uncle Chris will get something off the stove. He’d go, “What scene’s on?” He’d sit down with us and we’d start watching it again. This movie is in the fabric of my family.
The business aspects aside and its core, it’s an American story of an immigrant that’s at the core. The book written by Mario Puzo, I read the book before I got into the movie which is interesting. The book is Godfather 1 and Godfather 2 put together, the two different stories or at least most of it. It’s a story of Don Corleone who is an immigrant to America that pulls his self-up from his bootstraps. It’s a little bit of the generation to generation, how a business can be born and can fall apart without succession planning. It’s fascinating all the different themes that go through both in movies from the book into business and could do a long show on all the different business aspects that you can pull out.
When Frank and I went through all the different scenes, for me, one of the most powerful scenes of this movie that I’ve always thought of and I’ve talked about the scene often with managers, with people in their career in general is the opening scene. The opening scene is when you get to know the Don, who he is. He’s in his office on the day of his daughter’s wedding. The Godfather can never decline a request on the day of his daughter’s wedding, which is a weird rule.
What are the stereotypes they get away with in this movie? You could never make this movie like this now because you’re Sicilian, you’re calmer. All the shit they can pull off in this movie is incredible. No Sicilian can deny reasonable requests on their daughter’s wedding day. That statement is so riddled with the ability to wiggle out. It’s insane.
The movie starts with a funeral parlor owner, an Italian, coming to talk to the Don and his daughter got in with the wrong crowd and this crowd abused her. He wants retribution from the Don. He tried the police. The police blew him off. The movie starts with him asking for a favor. In an essence, he’s asking The Godfather to have these boys killed. The way the Don handles it, the way he calmly listens, the way he presents himself to this business owner sets the tone for the whole movie on how the Don operates his business.
I guess we can start with the caveat in this. This is the movie and we don’t condone killing people and all of the violence and the mafia but you could translate the Don’s business if he’d sold tech devices or if he was in the computer programming business, it all works the same. Let’s just take that caveat out that we don’t condone all this violence that he’s done but in essence, the Don tells everyone in that intro. It’s like the inciting scene of the movie and it’s right out of the gate, which is very unusual in a movie the way he operates, which is I will do you a favor and someday I may call on you for a favor myself. To me, it encompasses.
In essence, the Don says, “I’m not going to kill these boys but I’ll rough them up for you a little bit. What’s in it for me? Are we friends?” The guy says, “Absolutely,” and in this world, you have to kiss the Don’s ring if that’s the case. Once he says, “I’m going to rough these boys up for you and take care of this business,” that just means that this funeral parlor owner owes him a favor one day and he can’t turn it down. To me, this is how networks are built. Throughout the movie, they talk about it. You’ve got the judges. You’ve got the police. You’ve got congressmen in your pocket.
All those little policemen and congressmen that you hold so neatly in your pocket.
He’s got them all in his pocket. The reason he’s got them all on the pocket is that he’s done them all favors. The book goes into detail on how he gets all of those judges because they all have things that they’ve done wrong that the Don has made go away and it makes them all loyal to them. To me in business, building a network is not about going to a network function and collecting a business card. The way to build a network is to do something nice for someone, to help them to fix something for somebody, to show some value. The thing that I would say is different in the business world than with Don Corleone who was very transparent, that I only do favors knowing that I’m going to come back and ask you to do some. In business, you can’t have that mentality of I’m only helpful because I expect you to help me back. People that do that, normally it’s obvious and people don’t want to hang around them. In business, I’ve found personally that the more I just give without expecting anything, the more people tend to give back and it makes me more productive.
On the giving side, he gives and he knows that he gives you something, you’re going to get something back and that’s the trade. Benjamin Franklin had a quote and it’s like, “If you ever want someone to do you a second favor, get him to do you the first favor.” That is the brokerage with which he had. What sets him apart from other gangsters is instead of stealing money from the people, he protected the people like he had such a fiercely loyal following to him. What I want to go back to is I want to unpack that first scene. One of the first things you see in his darkroom, people dressed up well. Someone is saying, “I believe in America.” “I believe in America” is something that my great grandparents felt when they moved here.
I believe in America was a big push many years ago when all these other companies, if it said Made in America on it, that was a big deal. It was a Renaissance of how important being Made in America was. The biggest business investor, one of Ian and I’s business heroes, Warren Buffett, always bet on America. He believes in America. Is it perfect? No, we’re in a messy election. Is it perfect? Hell no. Is it better than anything else out there? Yeah. It’s the spirit is what people do here when they get here. Something that is special is take the dysfunction, take all of it and put it together and it’s the best system there is. It’s the best system for business. It grows. That was what I thought was cool about that scene of I believe in America, it goes further than that but that’s the first thing and the first hurdle in the movie. You’re like, “That is a real business parallel.”
The Don and the scene give this business owner a little bit of a tongue lashing. He does it in a very calm and pleasant way, but his comment to him is, “All these years, you’ve never visited me. You’ve never stopped by. Your wife has never come by to talk to my wife. You call yourself a friend and yet the only time you’ve ever been in my house was on the day of my daughter’s wedding asking for a favor.” He dresses him down a little bit and he had every right to say no at that point. The other lesson on this networking thing is if you don’t put the effort into the network and help people, you can’t expect people to care on the day that you need help. If you didn’t care first, the Don has every right to say, “Get out of here. You’re a loser. You don’t even like me. You don’t even talk to me unless you’re desperate.” When it comes in and I think it’s powerful on both sides.
The other thing is, you realize this now he’s a Don. He’s in the underworld, but he’s not lazy. Other characters in this movie are lazy but he is not lazy. What he does is he says this, “If you would come to me and show me respect, these people will be suffering right now.” He tells him like, “This is what could be but it isn’t this way because of you and any good manager doesn’t pussyfoot around things, they get to it.” They tell you what it is and that’s what the Don did in that scene, which I love. There’s something else I want to talk about here, homecourt advantage. Homecourt advantage in business is real. You’re coming to the Don and you’re asking for something. Every single person except for his godson who sits on his desk and ultimately gets slapped follows a protocol.
There is a protocol. Everyone sits in a certain way. Everyone stands in a certain way. Everyone asks in a certain way and you are coming in asking for a service. Because you’re asking for that service, you’re expected to do certain things and act certain ways. Most businesses, businesses that Ian and I are in at least, someone doesn’t end up at the back end of a gun but there is a protocol. You’re going to go to your boss for a raise, you’re going to talk to anybody inside of an organization. You need to know who you’re dealing with. Who’s the Don? Who’s that person? Who’s a person you can give a service to? You can go out of your way and do something where it may have repercussions years down the road that you don’t even know what those look like. That stuff is real. Ian and I have experienced that in business. It’s something that it’s not just the movies.
When you talk about protocol also, in every meeting that the Don is in, there’s certain respect given to him. Even people that want to wipe him out, show him respect when they’re around him and you find that’s kind of the same in business. If you’re in a boardroom, the highest-ranking person usually speaks last. They listen. If they’re good at their job, they’re not doing all the talking. They listen. If you watch the Don in almost every scene, he’ll lead it with a quick thing and then he’ll ask for everyone to share. That happens early in the movie. That happens when he talks a lot about the drug business. That happens when he brings the five families together. The Don will usually kick it off, listen and then he has something to say at the end. That protocol works in business. It’s the CEO, the owner, the highest-ranking person in the room normally does the least talking but there is certain respect afforded to them especially in groups. You want to show respect to the Don of the room.
One of the things I think is interesting too is almost always when you think of movies, you think of sparks flying. You think of big moments, big heroics, things like this. The Don undresses people and makes world-changing moves in a very low tone. He’s unemotional. He’s smart. He’s calculated. You’re going to see later Sonny gets killed. If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s several years old at this point. I’m sorry for the spoiler. Sonny gets killed because he’s emotional. The best managers and business owners that Ian and I both know are calculated. They are a strategist. They think ahead, they are always 2 or 3 moves ahead. They never react in a way that is emotional. They can have emotion but they don’t make earth-shattering decisions based upon emotion. They do it with calculated moves and conferring on other people who are empowered to lead, to give decisions and help, and that’s what you see in that first scene.
The next point we’re going to talk about is the Don’s ability to delegate. The thing that I take away from it is not so much that the Don is willing to delegate. A guy that controls as much territory as the Don does, someone with a business as big as his, he has no choice but to delegate. What I take away from this is how careful he is and who he chooses to delegate to. His consigliere, which is pretty much his number two, it’s like a COO of the mafia is Tom Hagen. Every time someone comes to them with a request, something’s going on, Tom will say, “Who do you want me to give this to?” There’s always a reason behind it.
There’s much more detail even in the book of how the Don thinks about how to delegate but he is very careful about who he puts on certain tasks, knowing their personalities and their ability to do different things. In the scene where he agrees to go rough up the boys, he says, “Give this one to Clemenza. I want someone reliable and someone who won’t get too carried away.” He thinks quite a bit about it. When he wants to get his godson into a movie, he sends his most trusted guy out there because he knows this is a big deal. He wants Hagen to go personally to talk to this guy. Throughout the movie, often there are tasks that are getting spread out throughout and everyone is careful about who the person is that will get delegated to. Not just so much are we delegating the task but who are we giving it to.
One of the things you feel comforted in when you see the Don is that’s part of his wise counsel, his sage, is he knows who it is and that’s how he makes problems go away. There are certain conversations that he has that are just great. There’s another scene where Enzo, the baker, comes back at a different scene, is standing behind the baker who made the cake. He’s like, “Who should we give this to?” He knew who not to give it to. Also, he didn’t want to give it to someone in their district. He wanted to give it to someone who wasn’t Italian because if it got something associated with it, he didn’t want it to be an Italian and we were trying to protect an Italian in this scene. He wanted to go to somebody who was ethically different. It’s one of those things where you get a new manager who rushes or who tries to push things down your throat, where you get the wise old manager who’s a little bit slower in decision-making but you can’t confuse how methodical they are with anything other than really brilliance and experience.
There’s a scene before Michael is going to an important meeting in a restaurant where they need to drop a gun and they’re going to put a gun in the toilet. That’s where Michael is going to get the gun because they’re going to pat him down when he comes in. Sonny, his brother says, “At that point, we need a good guy on this. I need to make sure there.” He looks at Clemenza, who’s loyal.
Before you say that, “I don’t want my brother coming out of that stall with his dick in his hand.”
That’s the line. This is delegation to the core. Sonny does a good job of delegating here, looks at someone he trusts, Clemenza. Instead of Sonny picking the person who’s going to go do the gun, he goes through the chain of command. He goes to Clemenza. He says, “This is going to be your job. I want someone reliable on this.” Clemenza says the only thing a manager ever wants to hear from someone when they delegate, “It will be there.” That’s it and that’s all. As a manager, as an executive, as a business owner, when you delegate something to someone, what’s important is you are specific in what gets done and when it gets done. Sonny says that gun needs to be there. It needs to be in that restaurant when Michael walks in to get the gun. It needs to be there. He doesn’t need to say how it needs to get there. He doesn’t tell Clemenza to pick this guy, go there at midnight, talk to the restaurant. He doesn’t do any of that. He just looks at Clemenza and says it needs to happen and Clemenza says the only thing you need to say to a manager when it’s delegated, “I’m on it. It will be there.”
Some of that is so interesting. When the drug scene comes up with Sollozzo a little bit later, Sollozzo is like a one-off. He’s like a one-trick pony. He wants to sell these drugs. The Don’s business is an established business. At this point in the story, this is not a startup. A startup doesn’t have the ability to delegate. They’re in their 3rd or 4th decade of being in existence, has a Clemenza, has a Tessio. It gives you an ability to outsource and to rely on people but that wasn’t the way it was in the beginning. How you can maintain a good business is you have people who are in place that you believe in, that you let them go do what they’re great at. In addition to that, you continue to accrue those types of assets that you can delegate to. In these types of stories, someone gets whacked but in real business, if you have a Clemenza who’s incredible at doing a job and you don’t let him do his job, Sonny wants to handle the gun, Clemenza is going to leave. In a gangster movie, you get shot. In real life, they go work for your competitor. That’s what delegation is all about.
Clemenza is either going to leave or it’s not going to go as well because Clemenza is one step closer to the action. He knows his guys better than Sonny does. He knows that restaurant very well. He knows how to get a gun dropped somewhere. Sonny is a few steps removed from it. For Sonny to come in and tell Clemenza how to get the gun there would be dangerous to his brother. Clemenza is the expert. You tell him, “That gun better be there when my little brother walks in.” That’s all you need to do. Delegating 101 is pick the right person and tell them what needs to happen but don’t tell them how because, theoretically, they should know how better than you. You’re good at managing projects for homes, you’re no longer as good as your best guys. For you to go meddle, most of the time you need to be like, “I need this to come in at about a 30% margin. Figure it out. Go get into the details.”Forget about being promoted, just be irreplaceable in your job. Promotions and raises will follow. Click To Tweet
I’m not dealing with paint colors, trim, miter boxes and shit like that. What I’m talking about is how does it fit into the whole business? I’m not as good as I was back then. What I think is interesting too about this, Ian, is this. There are natural leaders and there are forced leaders. In my opinion, this scene shows you Sonny is out skiing over issues. This is not the territory where he’s going to thrive. Sonny is a hothead. He’s a good 5th, 6th in command. He’s not good in command. Michael who had at this moment brought the plan up, he had the vision. He is the leader. Even though he was in the shadows at this point before he becomes the focal point, he’s like if Clemenza can come up with a plan, if they could hide something, if there’s a theme. What Sonny does is he drills the point home but the visionary in this was Michael. A person with higher EQ, with a college education. Someone who went into the military and thrived. You start to see what the critical elements are of not just a boss but a motivational and transcendent leader. That was the first time you saw Michael as, “This guy’s got what it takes.” This guy is the Don after the Don. It isn’t Sonny even though he’s a placeholder.
As we move in chronological order of the movie, we’re introduced to a fellow by the name of Luca Brasi, who is a favorite character of Frank’s and mine, even though in the movie he gets a very short shrift.
When I read the book, the scene about that guy swallowing the towel and dying. My dad has seen this movie hundreds of times, he’s never read the book. As soon as I read that part, I stopped what I was doing and I called my dad. You’re never going to believe this. In the book, they neuter him in the movie and that happens. You can’t take a fourteen-hour book and turn it into a two-hour movie without making some sacrifices. In the book, what ends up happening is this is like a right-hand man to the Don and he is a savage. They go into the details of it but I’ll let you go back through the intro.
We learn about Luca. There’s great detail in the book. Luca Brasi is the only guy who is in his organization that the Don is scared of because the guy is certifiably nuts. He’s a massive 6’6”, 300-pound enforcer. In the mafia, there are plenty of guys that make their name by doing the things that Luca Brasi does. Brasi does the dirty work and all of the other families are scared to death of Luca Brasi. They know him. In the movie, we learn about Luca Brasi in a negotiation that the Don had. He brought Luca Brasi and the Don made this person an offer he couldn’t refuse. Michael’s girlfriend at the time says, “What does that mean?” He said, “Your signature or your brains on the contract.” Luca Brasi, by him being there, they knew that this wasn’t a joke because Luca Brasi would put your brains on the contract. That’s what he does.
The scene that Frank is referring to in the book, actual Al Capone makes his way into the book. The Chicago gangsters, Capone sends a couple of thugs out to kill Corleone because he’s becoming too big and Luca Brasi intercepts these guys before it can happen, ties them up in some warehouse and hacks one of them to death with an ax in front of the other to get information. Before he can get information, the guy’s got a towel in his throat and he’s so scared he swallows the towel and kills himself. It builds up this Luca Brasi character.
I think all the gore, blood and guts that’s sensationalized for a movie but something I take away from this is in business, it is important to have people that are willing to do the dirty work. The cleanup managers, the people that are willing to do the work that others don’t want to grind their way through. I think they’re critical and especially those that know their lane. They know what they’re good at. Luca Brasi never aspires in the movie or the book to be more than just what he is for the Don and he appreciates what he has. Those kinds of people are critical in business that know their strengths, know what they’re good at. They’re paid well for it but they don’t aspire to do anything more. Luca Brasi could not have been a manager or a captain in the organization, that’s not what he was good at but he was good at intimidating, enforcing and murdering.
In a mob movie, that’s what people do is murder. Also, it’s an established organization. This is not a startup, there are levels. There are high-level people. There’s Tom Hagen, the attorney who’s got a great education, who is the whisperer to the Don but the Don needs muscle. In every business, muscle maybe isn’t it in a business but what you do need is someone who is going to make all the crack go away. Someone willing to deal with all the bullshit that comes up regularly. Another movie that we could talk about here which I love is Up In The Air. Did you ever see that movie with George Clooney?
Up In The Air came out in the last recession, ‘08, ‘09, something like that. Everybody on it, unemployment spikes, a thing like Coronavirus spikes but it spikes. It goes from 4% or 5% to 13%. Those are huge numbers. Outside of a great depression are big numbers. What George Clooney’s character is in this movie he comes in to fire people. That’s all he does. Wimps at businesses don’t fire their people, they send George Clooney in to fire. These businesses don’t have the heart and soul of a mob organization. A mob organization does it themselves. Other organizations, well-run organizations like Ian and I have been a part of, we handle our problems because we’re properly staffed. We have people who do the dirty work and in this movie with Clooney, these businesses didn’t have that and big problems happened in the movie because they had to outsource firing people.
I think one other point on Luca Brasi that I find interesting and it’s instructive is, Luca Brasi is one of the Don’s first employees. When he’s a scrappy startup, Luca Brasi and Don form a friendship and Luca has a big impact on the Don becoming who the Don is. The Don is not a murdering butcher but he understands the part of his business. When somebody tests him, he has to push back. He can’t just be nice with Al Capone. He has to show Al Capone how we do it in New York, every once in a while. Luca has a very big role in the Don growing to become the most powerful family on the East Coast. What’s fascinating is the Don goes from a one-person startup that we learn in Godfather 2 when he’s his own business, he goes and does one job. He kills the local guy who’s a pain in the ass to a sprawling organization with thousands of employees.
As he grows, Luca Brasi’s role is always the same. Luca is an enforcer when he’s a small startup, Luca Brasi is still an enforcer when he has a massive Fortune 500 company. The Don knows that Luca is limited and, “Just because I’m growing, I’m not going to promote him to a captain. I’m not going to promote him to a bigger job.” Sometimes it’s okay to just be good at what you do and you don’t need to get promoted and you don’t need to promote someone. Something I see often, the managers make a mistake or if someone’s a great sales rep or they’re a great project manager and I’m talking elite, double or triple what everyone else is. “Because we’re growing, let’s take that person and make them a manager. Even though they’ve shown no skills to be a leader, to think strategically, to be able to broaden out the horizons but because they were good at one thing, let’s make them a manager.” That typically backfires. The Don was smart enough to know that Luca was good at one thing and he paid him incredibly well but he never promoted him above his bandwidth. He never took him to a different level. He let Luca be Luca.
I’m going to go into real life with this with business. I graduated college, I’m 23 years old, like shortly thereafter. I moved to Northern Virginia. I go to work for Ryan Homes and everybody knew I had an upward trajectory in front of me. No doubt about it. I came in with that reputation. I felt that even though they never really told me that. What did they do? They took me with two salty dogs that have both been in the field building houses collectively for almost 60 years. Why? Those guys became managers or trainers another decade later but at the time, they were just in the throes of building. They were left in the right jobs because they were incredible at it. I was a young kid who could learn immediately from those guys. I can microwave the learning process by learning from these two incredible guys that’ll move up past. They don’t go into this in the movie but there’s a way that people like the Clemenzas of the world work under a Brasi or work with him and see what he does, understand what he does. They elevate past them in the organization but then they know how to call upon him with those skills, and that happens in real life all the time. You learn under these guys.
When you become a higher-level manager, you go, “I’m going to call Dale Matthews. I’m going to call David Remsky, the two guys who taught me how to build houses.” I will say, “I’m running into a problem. I’m thinking of it this way. What do you think?” I learned under them. I understand their vocabulary. I know exactly what they taught me but they have a depth of experience and they have a specific craft that is so much deeper than mine. As you grow, you know who to call back upon and ask that question of and there are both sides of it. You’ve got to leave those people in their roles but at the same time, as you’re moving up through things, build great relationships with those people so they answer the phone when you call and realize that they’re talented at what they do and to become a huge asset.
Pay them at the absolute top of the market. A lot of times, people promote someone who’s a very good individual contributor because they’ve reached the top of the band, whatever that might be some arbitrary range that someone created. They promote them to make them more money and they ended up putting them in a job that they don’t enjoy and the people under them don’t enjoy it. I would just say screw your band. If you have someone that’s that elite that anyone would kill to get under their company, pay them like it, pay them at the top of the market and keep them.
The Don’s temperament is one of the things that makes Don Corleone who he is, and you see it throughout the book and you see it in Godfather 1 and 2. The young one and older one in his temperament, he rarely loses his temper. Godfather 1, there’s only one scene where he raises his voice. It’s when he’s talking to Johnny Fontane, who’s his godson, who’s whimpering and whining, generally acting weak around the Godfather and the Godfather loses it.
You’ve got to say the line about the brains. I’m going to say it. He smacks him in the face and he goes, “You can act like a man.”
The only reason I want to bring this up is I’ve worked for yellers, people that yelled all the time. I’ve played football for coaches who yelled all the time and I’ve also worked for people that hardly ever raised their voice, that hardly ever got upset. What I can say is the latter, the one who’s calm, measured, thoughtful. When they do raise their voice, when they do get red in the face, when they do get upset, it crushes you because you know that they’re normally measured and you know that you screwed up big time to get them to crack, to lose their temper a bit. It makes a bigger impact on people when you are measured the majority of the time and when you do lose your cool little bit, it gets everyone’s attention so much more than the dipshit that’s just always yelling, frustrated and upset.
Speaking of neuter, Johnny Fontane gets neutered in the movie. A fun fact for those of us that are Italians and there were nerds and geeks for this stuff. If you haven’t heard this, the Johnny Fontane character is supposedly built on Frank Sinatra and they’re supposed to be some truth to it. We talked in the last segment about Luca Brasi. He was the guy who was in a role because he was great in that role. The yeller is someone who’s in a role. The yeller very rarely ascends up. The asshole is capped. We’ve used this analogy, Ian and me, a bunch. If you’re going to be great in business, you’ve got to have five pitches. You’ve got to have all the skills and all the tools and you need to not be afraid to yell at somebody. If it comes to that, you better do it but that needs to be something you use rarely.
I don’t know if I’ve ever yelled at people in my business. I’ve bluntly said, I’m pissed for these reasons and this is why. I’ve very quickly made that point but at the same time, I’ve been able to get past it and move into something else. Because I don’t want to be known as an emotional leader who can’t be approached and there are both sides of it. What was so cool about the scene with the Don, he smacks him in the face, gets his attention but then he immediately decides to send Tom Hagen out to see Woltz.
The people that have to yell in business, Frank, typically don’t have an answer. They’re frustrated with themselves that they can’t get better performance or they don’t know what to do. It’s normally their insecurity. It’s like a two-year-old, “I’ll just raise the volume until I got what I want.”
It’s like I tell my two-year-old, “Use your words.” If you don’t have the vocabulary or the bandwidth to be able to do it, you just yell and scream.
The first twenty minutes of this movie is the Godfather’s daughter’s wedding at his house. He spends the majority of her wedding working, thinking about work, talking about work. Whatever you think your work-life balance will be, one thing that I think is consistent in the real world is most wealthy and successful people that I know are working all the time. They take phone calls on a regular basis, at random hours all the time. They pick the phone up when customers call. They are rarely all in business or all in personal. It’s a blend. It’s always melded in with regular life.
There’s not much to say to that except that’s the truth. I live in a nice neighborhood. Ian visited me. I had some friends in town, some business colleagues in town in the last couple of days and someone walked out and was overhearing a conversation that we were having. I use this quote because I had it in the notes. I’m like, “Average people never stop working.” It’s the truth. If you’re in a startup situation and your revenue isn’t where you want it to be, take a pause. I remember doing this when my business was very small and quiet. I remember not making the money I wanted or having the staff or what I wanted yet but I remember thinking I’m probably going to be at a point in my future where I’d want to trade some of the money or some of the things that I have for the piece I have right now. You have to understand what season you’re in, in your business and if you’re in one of those seasons where you’re allowed to use your brain and you’re allowed to have some of that time, it might not be that way forever so take advantage of it.
Now that Johnny Fontane has been chastised and kicked out of the office, it’s time for the Godfather to go to work and help him get the movie role that he wants. He sends his number two. He sends Tom out to Hollywood to meet with Woltz. Woltz is a big-time executive movie director, producer, rich beyond most people’s means but probably not on the level of the Godfather when it comes to power but a very powerful man in himself.If you're going to make 2X and 3X what you're making today, the pressure is going to be 2X and 3X. Click To Tweet
A couple of things with Woltz that I want to unpack with you, Frank, and I think this theme comes up. People in this movie who lose their temper, it ends poorly for all of them. The best negotiators throughout the entire movie whether it’s Corleone, Michael, Tom Woltz is a great negotiator, Sollozzo is a good negotiator. You rarely hear them turn the volume up. They’re calm, they’re patient. They let you start flipping your cards over and showing you their hand. Tom Woltz is one of the first situations where he is an awful poker player as a negotiator, he shows you his cards quickly. He’s pugnacious. He’s loud, arrogant and he’s very transparent. He tells you exactly why he’s doing certain things to the point of he just undresses himself when you have to negotiate with him.
Woltz owns the studio and the guy’s name is Tom Hagen, he’s the consigliere and attorney for the family. Woltz, the studio executive is working and Tom Hagen shows up right on set. Tom Hagen walks up to him and he starts to broach the subject and right out of there, Woltz goes, “I don’t care how many goombas come out of the woodwork.” What does Woltz say back, Ian?
It was like, “I’m German-Irish,” then Woltz says to him, “My Kraut-Mick friend.”
This is 1 of my top 3 favorite lines of the movie. It’s amazing when he yells at him. It’s hilarious.
Woltz is old school. He’s an established man. He’s arrogant. He’s egocentric. He’s gotten to the top of the heap and he’s been at the top of the heap for a very long time. Because of all of those things, one of the things that Ian and I saw in him is a huge ego. He’s emotional and he’s egocentric.
Tom Hagen is out there asking him to reconsider putting Johnny Fontane in the movie. We don’t know why he’s not doing it at this point. This is where Woltz starts to show all of his cards but what it comes down to is Johnny Fontane had stolen a girlfriend away from him at some point. The line that Woltz says which shows his ego and really what this is all about is, “He made me look ridiculous and a man of my position cannot afford to be made to look ridiculous.” That’s it. He’s not thinking about who he’s dealing with. He’s not thinking about how dangerous it is to get into an argument with the mafia. He’s not thinking about the next steps along here. His ego is focused on how he appears to the world that everything else has just been blotted out. It’s all become noise to him because all he cares about is his image. Perfectly, he’s in Hollywood but that’s the way it’s setting up because Hollywood is the rest of the business world on steroids about ego and appearance.
It also is how a lot of managers in businesses make decisions. I’m no stranger to it. I’ve been myself but every decision you make, you’re thinking about, “If this works, if it doesn’t work, how am I going to look within the organization? If someone comes to me and asked for a raise and I have to talk to my boss about that raise, how is that going to look? Does it look like I’m soft on pushing back on policies? How am I going to appear?” Everyone does this within the business. The only way to work with people within a business is to think about their ego because it’s always there. Some people just are worse at hiding it.
What the Don teaches us in the first scene is that timing is everything. He’s going to show you that you’re going to ask me for something now and I’m going to do it. At some point in the future because I did this for you now, you’re going to do something else for me later. That is a big part of life. When you’re new into a business or you’re new in your career, you’re picking up chips and you’re stacking chips. If you’re smart, life leaves clues and you’re picking up on these clues and things that you start to see. I was in a company for about six years. I’ve been promoted half a dozen times. I’m sitting there interviewing for a vice president’s position. I was 29 or 30, a young position to be in.
I was across the desk with someone with a big ego. I kept feeding stories about how great that person was and they were helping me answer the interview. I knew because I had been collecting chips for six years, this is how to win this interview. It was a calculated move, Woltz doesn’t do that. Tom Hagen does. Tom Hagen, the attorney who’s smart, who just tips his hat does things like this. What he sees is an emotional person that they can exploit because of how he flies off the handle and when he flies off the handle, he’s no longer intelligent or brilliant, which he must be to get where he got. Those are things that you can start to see. Ian and I were talking about how to prepare for and capitalize on negotiations. When you work with an egomaniac, you can out-negotiate them because you can pull into their ego just like Hagen did to Woltz.
I’ve got a fun story for you on this because you know the person as well. When I started in NVR Mortgage, we didn’t have annual meetings to give trophies to people. We didn’t recognize things but Ryan Homes, our sister business did and they did it all in different local places. I noticed that right away and I’m like, “That’s nice that they do that. We should do that with our people.” We had a big region at the time, a couple of hundred people. I told a few people I’m thinking of doing and they were like, “You’re not going to do that.” I’m like, “Why?” They’re like, “Bill would never spend the money. He doesn’t believe in annual meetings. He thinks it’s stupid.” I’m like, “We can change some of that.” They’re like, “I’m just telling you, they’re not going to.”
Bill, I love him to death. He’s the founder of our company with huge ego. He has a big personality. I booked the hotel room. I didn’t ask him. I ordered all the trophies. I scheduled the date and I went to Bill and I said, “Bill, I’ve got a great opportunity. I think our people would love it. Will you kick off my annual meeting and give a presentation? You have no idea how much it would mean to everyone for the founder to talk about your vision.” I played it up on how the whole meeting was about Bill. I’m like, “Times are tough and it would be good to hear someone who’s been through some recessions and some downturns to just tell everyone it’s going to be okay. They would love it.”
I didn’t ask for permission. He was like, “What meeting?” He started to get mad and I’m like, “Annual meeting like Ryan Homes does but I think this one is going to be more important because you’re going to be kicking it off. They don’t have a president kicking it off like you.” He was like, “What day?” Not only did he agree to come to my meeting, which I never asked him approval for it, he just assumed it was already done. That was part of the ego too is I assumed that he gave me control like, “Why would he ever say no to something like that?” He didn’t even say like, “Why didn’t you come to me?” because it would have been embarrassing to his ego.
We just assumed we were both doing it, but not only did he agree to come present, he asked where the venue was. We then switched it to his country club so that we could do it in his room in his meeting. Every year from that day on, I would come to him and be like, “What’s your number again at Westwood?” I did it at his country club every year from then on. He was all about it and he loved it. I would get people to send me emails after to say how much they enjoyed the president’s speech and I would share it with them. I was the only regional for five years under Bill and that ever did an annual meeting. No one else did one because they had no idea how to work that man’s ego. I did and it worked.
Life is a symphony and you’ve got to play the symphony. One of the things that Ian and I were talking about a couple of days ago is how do people play us? When you have an ego, you don’t think you ever get played. We know we’re getting played somehow too but that’s all part of it. It’s also fun for someone else to manipulate you in a way where they can get into a win and tell their friends, “I got my boss to agree to this, which I didn’t think he was going to do.” The cool thing about business is you get to take shots, you get to do things like this. If Ian was pissed and he canceled the meeting, it would have been embarrassing and it would have been slightly painful but you wouldn’t have ended up with a bullet in your head. It could have gone negatively but it wouldn’t have ended with death.
In addition to that, if you play it right, it can be incredibly fun and it can be something that sparks an incredible relationship. There are two things a bit, there’s positioning but there are also sales. We don’t talk in here about sales but that’s what it is. Playing into an ego, playing into getting what it is that you want. It’s selling. It’s having a vision. It’s figuring out how to bring it to term and the Don had done that for decades. What he was selling was protection and all these other characters who ultimately win have a product to sell and that’s why they ultimately win.
You just read part one of Business Lessons from The Godfather. If you liked it, tune in for parts 2 and 3 as we go true to form with a true trilogy of Business Lessons from The Godfather. If you like our show, thank you so much. It would mean a great deal to Frank and me if you gave us a five-star review at Apple Podcasts.