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The Godfather’s business lessons 50 years on

The commercial judgment and financial prudence of Don Corleone came down to ice-cool card-playing regardless of the turbulent times

For those looking to gain an edge in the often ruthless world of family business, the advice of Don Vito Corleone could well merit a module taught in the world’s business schools. After all, he was the man who said: “Lawyers can steal more money with a briefcase than a thousand men with guns and masks.”

Don Corleone may have been the head of a criminal empire but he operated along the most efficient business lines, with the family’s needs always prominent.

And half a century after it dominated cinema screens, The Godfather’s legacy endures; although Brian Cox’s Logan Roy is the bad-ass boss driving the huge popularity of Succession, he learned many of his best moves from Marlon Brando’s Don Corleone.

“It’s not personal, it’s strictly business,” is a phrase now so ingrained in modern parlance that it crops up repeatedly in situations comic and criminal.


In his book Everything I Know About Business I Learned From The Godfather, Robert Gore says: “Three hours spent watching the iconic Godfather films will teach you more about business than any lecture on industrial strategies, while the novel itself offers more insight into running an organisation than entire libraries of books on management.”

But although The Godfather novel and movies have received their due as classics of literature and cinema they haven’t been credited as a uniquely superior source of instruction and inspiration for both career and life, according to Gore.

“If you’re considering business school this book could save you two years and over $100,000,” he says.

Since the film premiered in 1972, its business wisdom has resounded around the world.

In all dealings, Don Corleone advised keeping “your friends close and your enemies closer”, a strategy many business people would readily agree with. Through downturns and depressions, commandments from the gangster’s bible entered the lexicon.

Understanding the motivation of your opponents is key to staying a step in advance of the competition, especially those with a constant desire to eat your lunch.

“A friend should always underestimate your virtues and an enemy overestimate your faults” went another polished pearl of the don’s. A central tenet of the Corleone playbook dictated that a man must be as good as his word, underlined when consigliere Tom Hagen is rebuffed by an obnoxious Hollywood film producer.

“Mr Corleone never asks a second favour once he’s refused the first,” the adviser politely explains – and six hours later a severed horse’s head turns up in the producer’s bed. Moral of the story: if you’re going to talk the talk, you better be prepared to walk the walk.

“Leadership is at the core of The Godfather, especially those occasions when difficult decisions have to be carried out,” says Gore.

“Ultimately the commercial judgment and financial prudence of Don Corleone came down to ice-cool card-playing regardless of the turbulent times. In the white heat of deadly negotiations, the Godfather played his trump card at just the right moment: ‘I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse’.”

Done deal.