Lessons from the “Don”: Insights into success and strategy for modern businesses


In the shadowy world of organized crime, where secrecy, power, and ruthlessness are the currency of choice, imagine a dimly lit room adorned with mahogany furniture and the faint aroma of cigars lingering in the air. At the head of a long, polished table sits a figure, cloaked in shadows, known only as the Don. His hushed whispers carry more weight than any law, and his empire extends far beyond the confines of the room.

This is the realm of the mafia—Cosa Nostra, the Camorra, ‘Ndrangheta, and the Sacra Corona Unita. These names may send shivers down your spine, but they also represent a clandestine world of staggering wealth and power that have not only thrived but have become some of the most profitable entities on the planet.

According to a study, these four Italian crime syndicates form a “huge holding company” with a staggering total turnover of around 130 billion euros (approximately $165 billion) and profits nearing 70 billion euros (about $90 billion) annually, after accounting for investments and expenses. Their reach goes far beyond Italy. Take, for instance, the likes of Mexico’s drug cartels, Russia’s mafia groups, and Asia’s triads, all operate on a global scale and generate massive revenues.

What makes these criminal enterprises so successful? How have they managed to outperform even legitimate businesses, effectively becoming Italy’s largest “company”? The answer, of course, lies in their illicit operations and activities, which are both illegal and morally reprehensible. However, when we peel back the layers of secrecy and criminality, we discover that there are indeed critical lessons that businesses can draw from the mafia’s success.

This article delves into the paradoxical world of organized crime to extract insights that are not about emulating criminal behaviour but rather about understanding the underlying principles that drive success. From their hierarchical structures to their diversification strategies, there are valuable lessons that business leaders can apply legally and ethically within the legitimate corporate world. Join us as we explore these lessons and examine how principles of secrecy, loyalty, and resource management have propelled criminal enterprises to astonishing heights—and how similar principles can be harnessed for lawful success.


  1. Secrecy and Loyalty

As the adage goes, your secret is your power. In the realm of organized crime, secrecy and loyalty are paramount. Members of these organizations are bound by an unwavering code of silence, known as “omertà,” which ensures that they do not divulge sensitive information or betray their associates. While the methods may be unsavoury, businesses can draw a valuable lesson from this emphasis on confidentiality and loyalty.

In the corporate world, maintaining confidentiality safeguards proprietary information, trade secrets, and strategic plans. Furthermore, fostering loyalty among your team members can lead to a stronger, more dedicated workforce, enhancing the organization’s unity and cohesiveness.

  1. Structure:

Mafia organizations are typically structured hierarchically, with a clear chain of command that ensures that decisions are made efficiently, responsibilities are allocated appropriately, and tasks are executed with precision.

At the top is the boss or “Don,” who makes important decisions and sets the overall direction for the group. Underneath the boss, there are various ranks and positions, including underboss, consigliere (advisor), caporegime (captain), and soldiers. Each member has a specific role and responsibilities within the organization.

In the legitimate business world, having a sound organizational structure is equally crucial. By delineating roles and responsibilities, organizations can minimize confusion, promote accountability, and optimize workflow. Effective leadership within this structure is vital, ensuring that directives are communicated clearly and that the company operates harmoniously toward its goals

  1. 3. Infiltration, Networking and Strategic Alliances:

The mafia’s infiltration of various sectors and corruption of individuals has been a dark hallmark of its success. While these actions are illegal and unethical, there’s a constructive parallel for businesses: the importance of networking and forming strategic alliances. In the corporate realm, building strong relationships with partners, suppliers, and even competitors can provide a competitive edge. Collaborative ventures, joint marketing efforts, or shared resources can lead to mutual growth and expansion. However, it’s imperative that these partnerships remain ethical and fully compliant with the law.

  1. Diversified Portfolio:

Mafia groups often diversify their criminal enterprises to maximize profits and mitigate risks. In the legitimate business world, diversification plays a pivotal role in reducing vulnerability. Relying solely on one product, market, or revenue stream can expose an organization to substantial risks. By expanding into complementary industries or markets, businesses can spread their risk and ensure greater stability. This strategy allows them to adapt to changing market conditions and seize new opportunities for growth.

  1. Culture and Community Ties:

Most mafia organizations have deep cultural and community ties, which can foster a sense of unity and loyalty among members. In the business world, companies can glean a lesson from this by investing in building a strong corporate culture and engaging with their local communities. A positive company culture promotes employee satisfaction and retention, resulting in a motivated and committed workforce. Moreover, community engagement through philanthropy and responsible business practices can enhance a company’s reputation and strengthen its ties with customers and stakeholders.

  1. Decisiveness:

Mafia leaders are known for their decisiveness in making critical decisions rapidly. In the corporate landscape, effective decision-making is a skill that can set leaders apart. The ability to gather relevant data, analyse options, and make timely, well-informed decisions is crucial, especially in today’s fast-paced business environment. Decisive leaders can respond effectively to challenges, capitalize on opportunities, and steer their organizations toward success.

  1. Maintaining Order:

Maintaining internal order and discipline is essential for the mafia’s survival. Similarly, businesses must prioritize conflict resolution to ensure a harmonious work environment. Timely and fair resolution of disputes among employees can prevent conflicts from escalating, maintain productivity, and bolster team morale. Effective conflict management fosters a collaborative atmosphere where employees can focus on their tasks without the distraction of unresolved tensions.

  1. Employee Incentives:

In the mafia, financial rewards and other incentives are used to motivate members. In the corporate world, businesses can take this lesson and implement effective reward systems for employees. Recognition, bonuses, career development opportunities, and other incentives can boost motivation and productivity. Rewarding outstanding performance not only benefits employees but also contributes to a more engaged and high-performing workforce.

  1. Accountability:

Just as the mafia enforces consequences for disloyalty, businesses must uphold accountability and ethical behaviour among their employees. Establishing clear guidelines and consequences for misconduct ensures that employees adhere to ethical standards and company policies. Fair and consistent accountability measures help maintain a culture of integrity and reduce the risk of unethical or illegal behaviour within the organization.

  1. Selective Process = Strategic Hiring:

Mafia organizations are highly selective in their recruitment process, ensuring that they bring in individuals who can be trusted and are willing to commit to their cause. Similarly, businesses should approach hiring with careful consideration. Thoroughly vetting job candidates to ensure they align with the company’s values and goals is essential. Strategic hiring can lead to a talented and trustworthy team, contributing to the organization’s long-term success.

In a world where ethical conduct and legal compliance are the cornerstones of sustainable success, these lessons serve as a powerful reminder of the principles that underpin achievement. Secrecy and loyalty safeguard sensitive information and build cohesive teams. Hierarchical structures ensure clear communication and decision-making processes. Networking and strategic alliances forge mutually beneficial partnerships, and diversification mitigates risks.

In essence, the world of organized crime, despite its nefarious reputation, offers a unique perspective on achieving success. By adopting and adapting these lessons to the legitimate corporate world, we can navigate the complexities of business with wisdom, ethical integrity, and an unwavering commitment to doing right by our employees, stakeholders, and society at large.

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