LMSM 17 | GameStop


“I don’t like violence, Tom. I’m a businessman. Blood is a big expense.”


Act II of our homage to an all-time classic is filled with drama, suspense, and succession planning! Frank and Ian continue to pull lessons from the Corleone family business in Part 2 of our podcast trilogy. In this episode:

  • How to reject someone with dignity like Don Corleone
  • “Leave the gun, take the cannoli” and “Happy wife, happy life” go hand in hand
  • “It’s not personal, it’s strictly business” … but is it?
  • Great salespeople do take it personally
  • Payback can be a great motivator

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Business Lessons From “The Godfather” (Part 2 of 3)

Welcome to part two of Business Lessons from The Godfather. If you didn’t read part one, we’d recommend that you stop here, go back and read that one first. If you want to get crazy, you go nuts. If you’re new to our show, hit that subscribe button. If you’re a returning member, thank you for supporting us. We appreciate you.

Moving onto the scene. Don Corleone makes his money in gambling and protection, whatever that means, which is pretty much muscle. That’s how he makes his money. That’s the old school way of mafia money. The world is changing. Things are changing. A rival boss comes to him and asks for his help in the narcotics business. It’s a classic scene in this where the Don listens and the Don explains his reasons for not wanting to get into the drug business with this rival boss. In this scene in which the Don rejects another person in a negotiation, there are many neat little things to unpack.

From the way he walks over before he starts talking and he pours him a drink, he moves from across the room and sits next to him. He gets intimate. He puts his hand on the guy’s leg. He’s saying, “We’re friends and I want us to stay friends. This isn’t personal. Let me give you my reason.” His wording, I love to death, because there are many managers that are passive-aggressive. They never give you an answer, stay away from it and don’t explain things. The Don comes over and before he says no, he says, “I must say no to you and now, I will give you my reason.”

Just that line, if you can get good at that of when you reject someone, you can get good at looking someone in the eyes and saying, “I have to say no to you and let me give you my reasons.” It is incredibly powerful and his reasons are a multitude of why he doesn’t want to get into the drug business. He’s got a code and he wants to explain how the rest of his business could unravel. It’s about branding and being in the wrong business line. It is such a powerful scene. Frank, you and I both wrote it down something that struck us the way the Don was able to approach it.

It also shows you the humanity of Don. I don’t know why or how but he builds these huge loyalty people over time because of how meticulous he is about people’s feelings. Even though he’s going to give bad news, the things you talked about, the sitting next to him, the touching the leg, all the things he did to endear himself to this person. This person comes back and tries to kill him. He doesn’t ultimately kill him. I would say there are two things that are incredibly important about the scene. Number one is he takes the problem head-on.

There’s no confusion, “I’m out and these are my reasons for being out.” The second thing he says, “It’s not the right business for me. I don’t like it for these reasons. I’m not going to judge you. Go ahead and do it.” It’s like a parent. It’s tough love in a way but it’s over. The conversation, the Band-Aid is ripped off and, “Let’s move on to something else because we don’t have this thing lingering.” We’ve all worked with people who you’re like, “Where do I stand? What’s going on? What do they think? I don’t know.” It renders you useless as an employee if you’re in this limbo. If you can get this thing right to the point and deliver it, you get past the limbo.

I’m going to add one more thing on this because I can’t get through a show without talking about my travel baseball team. We have fourteen kids on our team and for most of the first year, you bat all fourteen. When you do that, it’s hard to win because obviously, you’re not getting to the top of your lineup where your best hitters are as much. You have to go through it. You get a lot of zero innings. This year is the first year where on Sundays of tournaments, we bat nine. Meaning, we have to tell five kids on Sunday you’re not playing now. For the rest of their life, they’re going to have to get used to that starting when they’re 11 and 12. That’s the way baseball works, not everyone bats.

We could have posted the lineup and not said anything to the kids but in every tournament, either myself or the other Head Coach Bryce, we pulled every kid aside and we said, “You’re not in the nine. I want to give you the reason.” It’s similar to what The Godfather did. A lot of coaches are like, “I didn’t have to say anything. I could have let them figure it all out themselves.” I thought it was important to look them in the eyes and say, “You’re not hitting as well as the other nine. This is an objective decision and this is not a forever decision. This is something you can do to put in more work if you want to be in the nine next time. This is the way this is working now. We’re trying to win. We’re batting nine and you didn’t make the cut now. Keep working and you’ll be in it next time.”

Leadership is about getting to the conclusion the fastest. Click To Tweet

Those are hard conversations for little guys to get their arms wrapped around. They’re not even fun for me. I don’t like having to have that conversation. You can’t run a baseball team with only nine kids either because half the time they’ll miss and you won’t have a staff. You have to have a little bit bigger team but you also have to have that discussion. We have the same discussions with their parents. We have to have the same, “Here’s the deal. They keep working. I want you to know its objective.” As long as you’re straight with people, they get it and know what they can do.

We’ve talked about this before in firing people. It’s the same thing. If you fire somebody and it’s out of left field, you’ve done a terrible job, but if you’re going to fire somebody, there’s usually build-up to it, then the firing conversation is pretty easy. You’re like, “We’ve talked about it before and that’s where we’re at. Don’t you agree this is the best decision for both of us?” There’s something about human nature that you almost want to avoid the discomfort that you feel in making someone else uncomfortable.

If you can embrace that and realize it’s part of life, the faster we can get to it, the faster we can move on to something else, the better you’re going to be in almost every relationship in your life. Probably outside of marriage because sometimes, you’ve got to not say shit or talking to the Don. You don’t want to tell the Don something because he’ll shoot you. Besides those two opportunities, if you can get through it, deliver the news, you do it unemotionally, you do it in a way with facts and, “Here is the thing you can do to be better in the future,” it’s a winning formula.

Moving on to the next scene that we both liked. In the mafia, a common terminology is we’re going to the mattresses. In the book and the movie, it’s after you’ve murdered someone very important and you know that retribution is coming. The reason why they use it is you put a bunch of mattresses in a bunch of apartments and everyone lays low. The reason why you’re on the mattress on the floor, not even in a bed but on the floor, is because if your head pops up above a window, some sniper might be looking in at you.

In mafia terminology, everyone goes and scatters like cockroaches when the light goes on and hides until people’s heads cool down a little bit. There are hundreds of ways we could go down this but I’ve certainly experienced it myself in multiple occasions where there are times to humble yourself, regroup, get quiet, and do your job. Not be exposed, not be visible. There are times to toot your horn and times where you need to shut the hell up and go to the mattresses. I’ll let you speak to 1 or 2 of yours and I’ll go.

This comes back to being humble again. If you’re humble, you realize now is the time to be quiet and to lay low. If you don’t, you get picked off. If you look at a stock chart, it doesn’t go straight up, it doesn’t go straight down, there are jagged moments in both directions. What you have to be mindful of is what season am I in? Where are we? I’ll briefly tell a few stories. Coming out of college, I work my ass off and save phase. I became an executive. I had a huge house. I had tons of money. I was making a bunch of money and life was good. I could live normally. When I quit my job and I didn’t pay myself for six years, I need to lay low.

I had a shitty car that Ian still makes fun of me for. I had an inexpensive house that had $1,700 a month mortgage because I knew that I would have absolutely no way not to be able to afford living while I took a shot on something. When there was a crash and things started to go well in the business, it’s when I realize, “I can do some things differently than I could do before.” Those are those moments where you have to be like, “There’s a push and a pull to everything.” If I push in my personal life while I’m pushing at work, something is going to break but if I pull back a little bit in my personal life while pushing at work, I can thrive. There’s only so much you can do at any given time.

That, to me, is the undertone of this. If you discipline your kid and you slap them on the wrist, they’re usually incredibly well-behaved for the next twenty minutes. The reason is you send them to the mattresses. They’ve been humbled and that’s where they’re at, and you can’t lose sight of that as a business person. If you’ve been humbled, it’s time to shut your mouth and do great things so that moment is forgotten about, someone else screws up and then you can elevate.

LMSM 17 | The Godfather

The Godfather: Don’t stack more bad decisions onto the first one.


For Michael, the succession plan of the Don, going to the mattresses for him is literally going to Sicily and doing nothing. In the book, it’s a few years. I think it is in the movie too. All he does is goes on walks every day through the olive gardens and think. That’s important too with career transitions. A lot of times, we feel like you can’t have any time off in between transitions but going to the mattresses might mean not doing much for a year or not doing a lot for a couple of years. It’s just thinking, reading, talking to people, and getting input.

One of the hardest things for me when I left NVR was reprogramming myself to slow down and not be in a hurry to dive into the next thing. That would have been a huge mistake for me. I had to reprogram myself that productive didn’t need to be twelve hours a day right now. In that period of my life, I needed to spend time, test things, try things and learn. I went to the mattresses. Every month that goes by, I’m learning more things that I’m having fun doing but for that first year, you know it, I was in the mattresses. I was chilling.

We talked about this before on the show. One of the things you also did is you built the talk track. You told people, “I’m retired. I’m a baseball coach.” The reason you did that is so you didn’t get pressured to do something else or feel like, “I can’t give myself time to marinate to do it is that I think I need to do.”

I don’t have as many Italian family and friends as you do so if I said, “I’m going to the mattresses,” they would have just stared at me. I had to come up so I just said, “I’m retired.” That worked for me at the time.

Ian usually runs the agenda but I’m going to take over. The next thing we want to talk about is one of my favorite scenes ever. Clemenza is going to kill somebody. He knows he’s going to kill somebody. On the route, the guy they’re going to kill is their driver. Throughout the day, they’re running a bunch of errands. They’re looking for mattresses and places to lay low. His wife tells him, “Don’t forget to pick up cannolis. You’ve got to get the cannolis.” As a kid, I’ve heard this line a thousand times. It’s, “Leave the gun, take the cannolis.” There are 1,000 takeaways that we can have some fun within this. The most important one is this. Even a gangster knows that if your wife is pissed off, you’re not going to have a good life. She told him, “Don’t forget the cannoli.” He shoots the guy, the gun gets dropped. The cannolis are picked up. You’ve got to have a wife that’s happy at home or you’re not going to be very good at your job.

Even on a day, that’s stressful where you have to drive a guy around all day and know you’re going to kill him at the end of the day out in some farm, he still knows that I can’t come home and say, “I had a stressful day.” She wanted the cannoli so he made sure to wrap up some business before he left. Happy wife, happy life. That’s a fact.

I think everyone knows what a cannoli is. It’s this gorgeous, hard shell with powder sugar on it with a filling. It’s usually got chocolate chips in it. It is absolutely delicious. Every time a cannoli is served in my life, my dad says that line, “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” To get ready for this show, I’ve seen this movie 100 times. I’ve watched it twice since Ian and I decided we were going to do this. One of them, I watched it with my old man. He loves that line.

That’s one of our top five favorite lines. Another very famous line from this movie is Michael explaining what he’s going to do. This is the transitional scene where Michael starts to go on his journey where up until this point, he’s a war hero. He’s the only person not wrapped up in the illegal side of the business. Now, it’s become personal because his father has been shot. Michael slowly starts to explain what they’re going to do to retaliate because no one will expect Michael to do anything. Michael explains, “I’m going to kill them. This is how I’m going to do it. They won’t see it coming. I’m going to have to kill the crooked cop and I’m going to have to kill Sollozzo.” Sonny laughs at him, mocks him and says, “Look at you getting all personal on this.”

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Michael’s line is, “It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business,” which he’s copying from his dad. Don says it all the time in the book. He says it also in the movie. This is one of the most critical lines in the movie as it applies to business because most people who struggle to get their arms wrapped around their career take business way too personal. They expect too much. They’re entitled to certain things. They become too loyal to a company even though that company has changed and might not be loyal back. To me, it’s impossible to say that anything is always business and it’s always personal but you do have to try to separate the two when you find yourself getting too emotional.

There are two things I want to say here. “It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.” It shows you the difference between Michael, an incredible leader, and Sonny, a flawed leader. Sonny has what’s called low EQ which is emotional intelligence. Michael has very high emotional intelligence. Sonny rationalizes it in jokes. He’s boastful where Michael is much more calculated. That is one of the main separators. Sonny lets his emotions get in the way. He does all kinds of crazy stuff. He talks about business at the table. His mom says, “Don’t talk business at the table.” Someone else at the table brings it up and screams at them that we don’t talk about business at the table. He’s not a balanced person and because he’s not a balanced person, he ends up getting shot 742 times at the toll booth.

He takes everything personally.

That’s it but there’s a “but” to this. Ian said there’s a component of this movie that shows you that rich people are always working. If you’re in the right business, it’s that quote, “If you pick the right job, you’re never working.” My life is my business. It intersects with everything that I do. Is it emotional? Is it Sonny’s level of, “It’s not business, it’s personal?” No. It is who I am at my core. For me, it’s very personal. It means other people have accomplished way more than me but this is me doing my best, rowing in a certain direction, being constant and fucking relentless. It takes over sometimes like I’m giving my son a bath and I’m thinking about work. I have to really make sure that I can be present because I put so much into it. If you are passionate about what you do, that’s going to happen. I’m not going to say you’re not going to be great at your job if you don’t feel that way. You’re fortunate if you can but you need to understand how. If you want to be a startup owner or build the business, it’s going to consume you or you are going to fail.

I’m trying to find the exact quote right now, Frank. I’m looking it up as you’re talking because what you said contradicts a point. You have to be able to separate yourself sometimes but the most successful people I know do take things personal. They do let it blend into their life a little bit. There’s a line in the book that doesn’t make it into either of the movies. I underwrote it the first time I wrote it. Michael is talking to Tom and Tom tells Michael to calm down and that it’s not personal. Michael says, “That’s bullshit. Everything in business is personal. Every piece of shit I ever ate was personal and I remember all of them.” It’s a quote like that.

It’s an awesome quote that doesn’t make it into any of the movies. I remembered reading it and it resonated with me because it’s like, “When I was in sales, if you said no to me, it bothered me.” That made it. That’s part of what made me a good salesperson. I took it personal like, “Don’t tell me you’re making a business decision. Something about the way I presented myself. You didn’t buy it. People buy from people. You hear that in training. How can you not take it personal when someone says no to you? When you and I are raising money, how do you not take it a little personal just a little bit?” I don’t lose my mind if someone says no but if I make a pitch to you and we talk for a week or two and ultimately say, “I’ve got to pass.” I take it a little personal. I know the other people invested because they trust me, they liked my track record and my ideas. They think I can execute. Even if 80% of the people I talked to went and only 20% said no, how do I not take it a little personal that you made this decision based on something other than just your finances?

There’s a scene from another movie, Major League. Charlie Sheen gets cut. He walks into the manager’s office, he takes a ball, and throws it against the wall. He goes, “I’ll tell you what, Mr. Brown. You are not seeing the last of me. I’m going to take this ball and I’m going to shove it down your fucking throat.” It turns out that he didn’t get cut. They’re playing a joke on him.

His exact quote is, “Every time we face you, I’m going to take this ball and stick it up your fucking ass.” “I think someone’s played a joke on you, kid. You weren’t cut.”

LMSM 17 | The Godfather

The Godfather: The quicker you can admit defeat, the faster you get around the corner to something better.


We’re going to do the Major League at some point.

“I like your fire but someone’s played a joke on you.”

That is something that if you’re going to get anywhere in life, you’ve got to have some fight and you need to know what to let wash off your back but you also need to think of what is an affront and how do I attack it? Ian and I have talked so many times about, “We failed. We recalibrated. We pushed forward.” Is it personal? Maybe personal is the wrong word but is it something that we took seriously. Were our careers a choice? Did we believe that our worth was based upon how we performed in our careers? You’re damn right that’s personal.

My name, my dad’s name, my grandfather’s name is on my business. How we perform is personal. If we do things unethically, I will be merciless and get rid of your ass. I wasn’t creative enough to come up with a different name. My name is on it. We have to do those things. They don’t mean that. They mean something different in the world of gangsters but for any of us that want to do something, be passionate about and build something, you’re damn right it’s personal.

While we’re on this because it’s a great topic. Randy Moss, one of the greatest receivers of all-time in the NFL was not drafted early. A lot of it had to do with his off the field troubles that he had. He went to Florida State, he screwed that up. He was then headed to Notre Dame, he screwed that up. He ended up at Marshall. His problems with the law are the reason why and it had nothing to do with his God-given abilities that were good. Randy Moss would be the first to tell you that whenever he played at any team, they passed on him the first time. He absolutely took it personal. Green Bay was one of those teams that could have taken him. They needed a receiver and ended up taking a receiver after him but passed on him and had some disparaging comments for him during the process.

I don’t think anyone’s ever scored more touchdowns against the Green Bay Packers than Moss but it can fuel you if you don’t take too much of it. On the other side of it, Randy Moss then went to New England and got a lesson on personal and business. He broke a record for most touchdowns with a quarterback. He did eighteen touchdowns in one season. They lost the Super Bowl and was up for a lot of money. What did Belichick do? He moved on and it wasn’t personal. “I like you, Randy. We all like you, Randy.” “Tom Brady, I know you’re upset about this but our business model says that you’ve gotten a little too expensive for us.” He got a lesson right then on, “It’s not personal, it’s business,” because he did everything he could but ultimately, the dollar didn’t make sense.

In a business, like mobsters, personal gets you shot. In a business like everybody else that’s in, passion, emotion, and taking things personally can either be what unravels you or what fuels you and you have to pick which is it for you.

That’s a great way of capping that. I want to talk about Sonny. Sonny is the opposite of Michael in the books and in the movie. I always thought of Sonny like General Patton. He is a good wartime general but shouldn’t be running the whole war.

No matter who you are, you have to be prepared for the wave. You have to be ahead of it, or you’ll be wiped out. Click To Tweet

He’s a lieutenant. He’s not in charge of the entire Western fleet.

Patton thought he was MacArthur. He was not MacArthur. He was hot head. He was a warmonger. He loved to fight. He is badass. He’s great at what he did but had no business. You wouldn’t want Patton as the president of the United States. That’s not where you’d want him. He was right where he needed to be and he made his bones in a war when you needed a warrior to go fight. Sonny does so many things wrong in this movie. One of the biggest things that he does wrong is he ignores people around him. He ignores advice from people that know what’s in his best interest. He can’t think past one step in front of him.

Even the scene where he goes out and he loses it. He gets on the phone. He tells no one why he’s upset. He storms out. He doesn’t tell Tom and any of his bodyguards why he’s storming in. He gets in a car by himself when he knows the world wants him dead. He’s not supposed to leave his house. Tom tries to come and talk to him. He’s spinning his wheels out of Tom. He doesn’t even get a chance to talk to Tom. He sends guys after him. He speeds ahead of them whereas normally, he travels with a guy in front, two on the sides, and one in the back.

Everything he does in that scene ignores the people around him that are there to protect him. The thing that I take away from that is when you’re running an organization, no one person can do everything. You have to have people you trust around you that you trust will make good decisions and you’ve got to get their input. You can’t ever run a business. Even an owner like you, you don’t always have all the right answers. You’re not close enough to everything to know the ramifications of your decisions. If you’re an impulsive leader that can’t listen to people around you, things are going to turn out bad. What’s the point of having them working for you in the first place?

I didn’t think about this until right now. It’s something you said. Sonny is Luca Brasi with birthrights. Sonny should be in a role 4 or 5 rungs lower or maybe ten rungs lower than where he is, but he just so happens to be the oldest son of the guy that owns the business and he ends up running the business. Because he’s running the business, he does a terrible job. In the real world, what happens is that business runs into major problems. It goes out of business. Generational wealth is lost but in a movie like this, he gets shot 100 times because he’s the wrong guy for the job. I never thought of it that way. The book tells you this. He’s an incredible lieutenant. As a war lieutenant, he’s remarkable but he doesn’t have the other skill to elevate up.

Did you ever heard of Peter Principle in the book?


The Peter Principle is very simple. There is a level where all of us cap out on our talents and our strengths. When we get above that, we get exposed. Anything below that, we don’t. Sonny gets promoted because he’s the son of the boss but he would be much more effective a couple of rungs lower like Luca Brasi if he’d have known his role. The Don knew that about Luca and he knew it about Sonny. The thing is Don knows it. The way the mafia works is you have to give it to family or you’re weakened. Your people would wonder why. Fredo wasn’t capable and he didn’t want Michael in the business so Sonny was it. He knew all along Sonny is going to make a bad don. He knew it from little things he showed you throughout the movie where Sonny would lose his temper and the Don would stare at him or give him a tongue lashing. That was always going to happen. You’ve nailed it. His lack of EQ is what brought Sonny down. His arrogance, lack of EQ, and inability to listen to his chiefs. It was his undoing.

LMSM 17 | The Godfather

The Godfather: When things have been good too long, you should start being a little bit cautious because there’s going to be some type of a clear-out at some point.


We should go a little bit deeper into Sonny. Let’s have some fun. First, Sonny, terrible fucking back hair. All my wife could talk about during the scene where he’s standing there, she’s like, “The back hair. Change the angle. Get rid of the back hair.”

It’s like Chewbacca wearing a wife beater.

He’s wearing spenders. It’s so bad. There are the hair plugs. He and Tom Hagen are terrible.

There are plenty of good solid hair plugs throughout this movie.

I didn’t talk about this but I put in the gel from people right off the boat. The stuff that my barber is like, “Don’t put that crap in your hair and come in here. I can’t get the comb through it.”

I like it. You pomade it up. I put lots of pomade too. I slicked it hard.

I took this personally and I took it personal.

That’s good. That’s how it should be.

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Let’s talk about a few more things with Sonny. We talked about his lack of EQ. Let’s talk about strategic moves. If you are competing against someone either as a salesperson in a different role like getting promoted, you can bait people. What they did is they baited Sonny. They use his sister, she got roughed up, he got in the car, and he stormed out because they knew he had a temper and they baited him. How can you bait people that are in your way? How can you make sure you don’t get baited? How can you work to these different things? I wasn’t smart enough to move the pieces like that but I could tell pretty early in my career that this guy is limited. He can’t communicate very well. He can’t do these things.

I can be better because of my skillset, my ability to work, and how I can problem solve. Those are things that are absolutely real. I never told you this story. I got promoted. My first higher-level manager job. I’m the production manager. It’s 2003 or 2004. We have to do our annual plan. We have to come up with like, “What’s the budget for the construction department of this business?” It’s a big business and I’d never done it before. My boss, Paul, comes down the hall and it was three of us. There’s an old salty dog named Jim, and there’s this kid named Fred. He’s like, “Fred and Jim, get with Frank. You’ve got to do your plan.” Jim is like, “I’ll do my stuff.” He leaves and he’s like, “Fred, make sure you said Frank I go.”

Fred was like, “I don’t have anything to give you. You’re going to have to figure it out.” I was like, “What do you mean? You’ve done this before.” He was like, “I don’t have anything I can give you.” I was like, “They told me that you were going to help.” He was like, “I don’t have anything.” I was like, “I wasn’t as smart as I could have been. I should have called someone in a different division. I should have called some of the people that I had talked about earlier and I should have asked. I maybe should have pressed Jim a little bit harder for more detail.” What I did is I went through, I looked at everything, and I worked for two weeks alone coming up with a budget.

I went to present it and I got blasted. Mack let me have it, “This is terrible. What the F are you doing?” I walked across the hall to Fred when everybody was gone and I’m like, “You are one mother fucker.” What I did is I got smart. I realized he set me up. Not only did he set me up, I was going to out-think his ass. That’s when I went to other people in different divisions. I went back and I never spoken word that he set me up but he did. What I did instead is I figured out his weaknesses, how to work around him, his ass got fired and I got promoted but I didn’t get emotional. I didn’t let any of this stuff fester. I didn’t let anybody know about it but I took it personally. It was my job to make sure that mother fucker did not get ahead of me.

Macaulay and I at GE were in an industrial business and GE was prone to do. We reorganized. It felt like an acquisition. The power business, which was much bigger, took industrial into its envelope. What that meant was there were redundant positions everywhere. There were two regionals here and so on. The whole idea of doing a reorg is to take out costs and positions. When this happened, Macaulay and I were like, “Shit, we’re screwed. This sucks. The power guys are going to keep the jobs and we’re going to be out.” It started that way. Our boss was out. Our boss’ boss was out. They started in it. It’s trickling down. You could see this work in this way.

We were at this annual meeting where our boss and our boss’ boss take us out to dinner and say, “Sorry, guys, we’re out.” They’re off looking for another job in GE or have to leave. Everyone wanted to wallow in pity that night. I’m like, “Who’s our new boss going to be?” “Her name is Mary. She’s been with the business for a while. We get a little intel.” Everyone goes out drinking with our boss and our boss’s boss to feel bad for themselves. I am talking to Mac and I’m like, “Mary Phelps is at this meeting. We’re going to find where she’s at tonight. We’re not going out with the crew that’s out. I love them. They’ll be my friends for life. That doesn’t serve us. We’re going to find Mary Phelps.”

We asked around a little bit. We found out that a big group of the managers went to this bar. It was in Tampa. Mac and I literally go right up to her. “Hi, I’m Ian.” “I’m John. How are you doing?” I start talking to her. She’s probably twenty years older than both of us and she’s a lot of fun. Long story short, by the end of the night, we bought a whole tray of jello shots for all the power managers talking and getting intel. What we learned was our counterparts did not know Mary that well either on the power side. They had started to work with her. We had this opening where she wasn’t loyal yet to that group. She told us that night like, “I like to get to know your businesses. We should get everyone together and present all of our businesses.”

We were like, “That’s a great idea.” Presentations is something I’m pretty good at. I glean from the guy I was competing against. That’s not something he was good at all. He was rough around the edges and this guy was a dick. From get-go, he pretty much was making it known to everyone that we were out and he was in. He happened to ask me like, “Are you going to prepare much for this?” I’m like, “I don’t know what to prepare. I’ll go off the cuff.” I knew this guy was talking shit about me. He was trying to get something. He shows up with a piece of hotel paper and he had written some bullets. Mac and I come rolling into this thing.

We had a skit. We made Mary laugh a whole bunch. I had a PowerPoint with in-depth detail strategy of what we’re doing. We got intel from all of her sources, her lieutenants. We smoked in this presentation. Long story short, we were the only two managers in industrial that survived that whole reorg. The other two guys were out from the power business that we would have lost our job too. It was all strategy from the get-go. We’re not going to accept the fact that we got acquired and we’re leaving. We’re going to go find out who makes the decision. We’re going to befriend her, we’re going to impress her and push out the other two that were gone. You can think about that however you want but it was a very big moment in my career where I could have surrendered or I could have figured it out. I looked at it as a game that I could win if I thought enough steps ahead of the people that were up against me. I was not Sonny. I was Michael in that situation.

LMSM 17 | The Godfather

The Godfather: Most managers leave, and they think their team is perfect. Most new managers come in and think the team is terrible.


You’re absolutely right, it’s so fun. I was trying to weave something but I can’t figure out how to do it. I was going to look at you and go, “That is Michael.” That’s what’s great about it. It’s the sneak attack and winning. That’s the stuff in business that is fun. My wife is an academic. She has a different approach to her career and she takes it very seriously. She doesn’t get the wins that we get. It’s different. Her satisfaction is different but it’s awesome seeing a sneak attack coming around a corner in business, being ahead of it and winning. Those are the little things that you do that you start to propel yourself forward. That’s how a career is built. That guy that lost with the hotel notes on the scratchpad, did he get fired? Did he quit?

He ended up working for me. That didn’t last long for him because he was like Sollozzo that tried to kill me then all of a sudden, he found himself working for me.

What ends up happening there is it never ends well.

He didn’t come out that night. He didn’t come out to meet Mary to listen, talk, and shake hands. We learned that night that Mary’s HR manager was very important to her and influential. We got to know him. Mac and I called him and said, “Can we go through our notes for this presentation?” We presented to him before that night. We said, “We’d like to get your input on the HR stamp,” because people didn’t respect HR. We knew he was influential. We got his input knowing that the other guys weren’t going to do that. What do you think he did? He told Mary, “Those guys are prepared. They called me. They had some good ideas. I gave them some input.” We made him seen important. We mentioned him 3 or 4 times in our presentation like, “Jerry had told us a little bit about his strategy for it and we would bring him up.” We interweaved it all because we want to make sure every influence on Mary was pro-John and Ian.

Everybody has an ego even if they’re an HR. You stroke someone in HR’s ego. It’s the easiest people on Earth to stroke because nobody does it.

Everyone disrespects them.

Everyone thinks they’re pains in the ass as they get in the way, but you make that person feel like a real human being, you help them out, and show them that they’re important, that is what the Don did. The Don did it for four decades. That’s the reason why at the end, he’s in a power position and others aren’t.

You read part two of Business Lessons from The Godfather. We hope you liked it. If you did, make sure to tune in to part three, which is more of the same but a juicy ending. It would mean a great deal to us if you’d give us that five-star review with some comments.

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