• November 2013

Mob Rules: Are You Ready to Do Business Like the Mafia?

What can the Mafia teach the legitimate businessman? That’s the question we ask in the November issue of Be Inkandescent.

Thanks to insights from former mobster —and our Entrepreneur of the Month—Louis Ferrante, we gain insight into the surprisingly effective management techniques used by the Mob, and how we can all apply them to our businesses.

Sound like a wild ride? We think so, which is why we were thrilled to interview the former associate of the Gambino family who relied on his instincts and management prowess to pull off some of the biggest heists in US history. Scroll down for our Q&A. And don’t miss our podcast interview with Ferrante on the Inkandescent Radio Network.

In this issue we give you insights into the game of risk:

  • “Personality Poker,” by management expert Stephen Shapiro, explains the breakthrough he had while working with a Formula One race-car team in London. What if innovation teams could work as efficiently and predictably as the pit crews who service the race cars? Read all about it in Management.
  • “God Doesn’t Shoot Craps,” is a divine comedy by DC author Richard Armstrong that imagines a gambling system that wins every time. Based on Parrondo’s paradox, this thoughtful novel teaches us how to make it big without losing our souls. Don’t miss our Q&A with Armstrong in Books.

  • Queen Esther wasn’t just a biblical sage—she was a great business strategist, as we learned last month in our review of What Queen Esther Knew. This month, we talk to Lilian Broca, the artist who was inspired to create mosaics of Queen Esther, and other powerful Biblical women, including Judith and Lilith, in Fine Art.
  • Why do some girls give up on their dreams by the time they finish high school? Ana Dutra explains in Research.
  • Tomorrow’s Lemonade Stand took a page from Dutra’s playbook. Determined not to let her daughter lose sight of what she wants in life, Amanda Antico brainstormed with her then 7-year-old daughter, Kylee, and came up with an organization that is engaging hundreds of child-preneurs across the country. Learn all about their organization and these two Truly Amazing Women.
  • Talk about preparing for the future! If you have kids, planning ahead for college is high on your to-do list. Financial advisor Carmen Wu offers a four-step plan in Retirement.

As we gear up for the holiday season, we leave you with some food for thought from “Mob Rules:” A career of banditry in early youth often indicated a man of strong character and purpose.

As my husband Mike and I tell our kids, you have to master the rules before you can break them. Here’s to rocking the status quo—and to a wonderful month of giving thanks. — Hope Katz Gibbs, publisher, Be Inkandescent • Illustrations by Michael Gibbs

What Can the Mafia Teach You?


By Hope Katz Gibbs, Publisher
Be Inkandescent magazine
Photo by Jerry Bauer

Who says crime doesn’t pay? Not Louis Ferrante, an associate of the Gambino family, who by age 21 had netted millions for his employers.

“My natural talent for management led Mafia bosses to rely on me,” explains the man who went on to pay a big price for the crimes he committed—more than eight years in prison.

While in prison, Ferrante realized there was more to life than what he knew, and he decided to go straight. He also realized that the Mob’s most valuable business lessons would allow him to survive—and thrive—in the real world. He was right.

In the years since, he’s written two books. “Unlocked” is a memoir of his criminal life and his time in prison. His most recent book is the 2011 bestseller, “Mob Rules: What the Mafia Can Teach the Legitimate Businessman.”

It has been translated into 15 languages and read by millions around the world. And his work has landed him a TV show, “Inside the Gangsters’ Code,” which is currently airing in 217 countries on Discovery Network International. The show—along with several others that Ferrante is developing—will air on TV networks in the United States in 2014.

Talk about a turnaround. What made the former heist expert change his ways—and want to share the lessons he’s learned with entrepreneurs?

Click here to read our Q&A with Ferrante. And click here to listen to our podcast interview.

But first, scroll down to glean insights from Ferrante’s top lessons, including why it’s important to be a pizza egg roll.

Lessons for a Soldier (Employee)

Turn Garbage Into Gold—Learn to Sniff Out Opportunity

Mob Rules: “Business-minded mobsters aren’t wild and reckless. They prefer the shadows and dress like Mister Rogers. But they’re street smart and know how to give people what they want. It’s a different side of mobsters, one we’re not used to seeing, and they’re quite happy not to be seen. They’re sated with money, power, and success; who needs notoriety?”

Ferrante’s take-away for legitimate businessmen: Look around your current business for areas of untapped profits—jobs others turn their noses up at, markets people don’t bother trying to appeal to; there’s opportunity everywhere.

For example: If the Mafia had been in ancient Egypt, they would have supplied the stone for the pyramids, unionized the slave labor, put up a sausage and pepper stand, and turned the Sphinx into a casino. They also would have robbed the gold from the pharaoh’s tombs; Napoleon later did.

Lessons for a Capo (Middle Manager)

Toss the Dice High—Deal with Unreasonable Ultimatums

Mob Rules: When John Gotti was a capo, his brother, Gene, and close friend, Angelo Ruggiero, were members of his crew. The authorities recorded tapes of Angelo making drug deals, and the tapes also implicated Gene. Copies of the tapes were given to Gene and Angelo as evidence in their upcoming trial. Gambino boss Paul Castellano demanded Gotti get the tapes so he could pass judgment. Gotti was faced with an unreasonable ultimatum: deny his boss’ request and die for his disobedience, or hand over the tapes, which would lead to the murders of his brother and friend. What would you do?

Ferrante’s take-away for legitimate businessmen: Gotti took a page from Caesar’s playbook and executed the hit of the century—he killed the boss and underboss in a hail of gunfire, thus decapitating the Gambino family in one night. None of us likes to take such big gambles with our livelihoods, but sometimes your only real option is to toss the dice high and see where they land.

Keep this in mind: If you are a good person, the loss of your job usually means a better one awaits. If you’re a person with little faith in destiny, this may seem outrageous. I assure you, everyone has a destiny. Don’t let cowardice interfere with yours.

Lessons for a Don (the Boss)

Don’t Build Yankee Stadium, Just Supply the Concrete—Spot New Rackets

Mob Rules: Yesterday’s Mafia wore pinstriped suits and fedoras. Today’s Mafia can be seen wearing T-shirts and Levis. Considering the original business approach of Levi Strauss, founder of Levi Strauss & Company, his blue jeans are an apt metaphor for the Mafia’s methods because he could spot a real nugget. But Strauss never sought the glitter of gold. Smart mobsters use the same principle. They may not get a big contract to build Yankee Stadium, but they set themselves up to supply a million ancillary needs.

Ferrante’s take-away for legitimate businessmen: Think about Yankee Stadium for a few minutes and let your mind open up to the profit possibilities. Sod. Dirt. Plastic seats. Electronic boards. Flagpoles. This list is long, and we’re just getting started. And, construction can take years.

The bottom line: Like Levi Strass, the Mafia can spot gold that doesn’t glitter. Today the Mafia operates worldwide in more than 40 countries. Levi Strauss & Company still sells blue jeans, now in more than 60 countries. Essentially, he’s outdone the Mob 3 to 2.

Don’t stop now! Be sure to read our Q&A with Louis Ferrante here. And listen to it on the Inkandescent Radio Network.

Mob Rules: What Former Heist Expert Louis Ferrante Can Teach You

Does the average Mafia don know as much about effective leadership as any Fortune 500 CEO?

Absolutely, says Louis Ferrante, an associate of the Gambino family who relied on his instincts to pull off some of the biggest heists in US crime history. By the age of 21, he had netted millions for the mob—but soon after landed in jail to pay for his crimes.

The same management talents and business acumen that led Mafia bosses to rely on him also led him to find a way to cut his prison sentence short. But while in jail, Ferrante decided that he could thrive in the real world—without being criminal. Two books and a TV series later, he’s proving his theory was right.

It was a pleasure to interview the former don turned legitimate business leader. Scroll down for our Q&A. And click here to listen to our podcast interview on the Inkandescent Radio Network.

Be Inkandescent: In “Mob Rules,” you share that you began stealing at age 12, hijacked your first truck in your late teens, and were heading your own crew within the Gambino family in your early 20s. What led you into a life of crime—especially at such an early age?

Louis Ferrante: My mother and father were good people, but when I left the house I did what I wanted—and I wanted to hang out with the mischievous kids. We would steal cars and joyride around New York. Initially, we would just take a car for the night and do some doughnuts in the parking lot, pick up a girl from the neighborhood, and cruise around trying to impress her. Then we got to be 16 or so, and realized that we could steal cars and parts for money.

We could sell parts to the auto body collision shops in Queens under the table. A lot of the shops were crooked, so if your car was hit in an accident and you took it to an auto body collision shop, the insurance company would appraise it for, let’s say, $10,000 worth of damage, and maybe $5,000 went to parts and $5,000 went to labor. If they were able to buy the parts off me and my friends for a $1,000-$2,000, they would put the rest in their pockets.

One day I realized that the giant toolboxes that the auto workers were using cost about $8,000 a piece, and a guy told me that the truck comes once a week to deliver parts for the toolboxes. I asked how much the truck was worth, and he goes, “Well, it’s probably worth a hundred grand.” So I hijacked his truck. That started me in a new league. I put together a hijacking crew the same way I put together a crew of car thieves.

Soon I was hijacking, and we’re talking trucks all over New York. But just like the IRS is going to find out if you open up a business and start making money, the Gambino family is going to find out if you’re on the street making money. So they came looking for me. But I was happy that they did, because being part of the Mob is a step up.

When you’re an Italian American that’s the ultimate. It’s like if you’re a computer hack fooling around with stuff in your dining room, and Bill Gates is knocking on your window saying, “Hey, why don’t you come work for Microsoft?

Be Inkandescent: How were you finally caught and put into prison?

Louis Ferrante: It wasn’t in my makeup to snitch on somebody, and I figured everyone was like me. I was wrong. My snitch was a guy who went into the witness protection program. He said he feared me at the time, and I was probably a guy who should be feared back then. He agreed to testify against me and my crew, so we all got locked up together, and we all refused to snitch on other people.

I was sent to the penitentiary in Lewisberg, Pennsylvania, the maximum security penitentiary. There was a double homicide my very first day there. Day One and blood all over, guys getting hacked up by homemade prison machetes. So you pay a price when you don’t snitch.

Be Inkandescent: Unbelievable. This a world that most people only read about, especially people in the small-business community. You say in the book that you never informed on friends or associates. How did you regain your freedom?

Louis Ferrante: Just because you got locked up you don’t stop being a mobster; you’re just a mobster serving time. So we were all locked up at a federal prison, playing cards and still living the Mafia life. People would come for visits who were collecting money for us. I still had hijack loads that I had hidden and was selling. I still had a loan shark book on the street. So I was collecting money for the money that I had lent out. Yes, you are in jail, but everything continues and you’re still a mobster.

On one occasion, I went to “the hole” for a fight that I didn’t have anything to do with. Somebody threw an apple at the guard, and it was dark and they thought it came from me in the dormitory. So down I went. They didn’t want to give me my clothes, they didn’t want to give me a mattress; they wanted to make me suffer. When food finally came, I grabbed the guard’s tie through the food slot and it came right off his neck. I didn’t know until then that it was a clip-on. He looked at me and said, “You think we would wear real ties with animals in here?”

He said, “Look at you, you’re an animal. You’re an animal in a zoo. You’re not allowed of this cell unless you’re in chains.” And that was a big wake-up call, because it was true. When you’re in the hole, you’re chained up. You have to push your hands back up to the door, push your hands through the food slot, get hand cuffed and chained and then walk away from the door to be allowed out of the cell. So you really feel like an animal.

I started to rethink things, and when I got out of the hole, I said to myself, “I cannot go on like this.”

Be Inkandescent: What was your next step?

Louis Ferrante: I called up a friend who was the caretaker of mobster John Gotti’s Social Club. His name was Fat George and he had tattoos all over his body, and some of the tattoos were biblical verses, so I figured maybe he read a book. He might have at least read the Bible. I asked him to send me books, and he said “Sure, no problem. What do you want? Big boobs? Big behinds? What do you like?” and I said “No, no, no. I’m not looking for those kinds of books. I want to read a book.” And he said “What do you want to read?”

At the point I had never read a book before in my life. I was literate, I went to school when I was a kid, but I just cheated my way through school, never read a book, never studied. It was always just cheating to get by. I had people do my homework and projects all throughout school. And in my high school years I had a pocketful of money compared to the other kids, so I could pay people to do anything and I always got by.

So now I started to read and I fell in love with books. And that started to open up a new world for me. I thought Chinese people came from Flushing, New York. I didn’t know there’s a huge place called China, and it’s in this place called Asia and that on the coast of China is Hong Kong and Singapore and Malaysia and Southeast Asia. The British Empire started off in this tiny island called Great Britain.

That’s what I did for the next eight and a half years. I just kept on reading.

Be Inkandescent: What made you eventually decide to go straight?

Louis Ferrante: Different thoughts kept floating through my head about the “code” and how it wasn’t really what I was thought it was. The newer generation was dismissing the “code” whenever it was convenient. I believed in the code the way the old-timers did.

Realize that every day of your life in the mob you focus on how to make money; everybody is constantly thinking how to make money. That’s what the Mafia is. It’s an organization that revolves around money. And its called a family, so its like being in a family of moneymakers.

In jail, I realized that what we did wrong was that we had no real moral code. We have a code, but it’s a twisted code. If somebody owed me money, I can’t go to the guy’s house to collect my money because he has a wife and kids maybe, or his mother might be home. How dare I offend his family and the sacredness of his home? But the code is twisted because if I catch this same guy down the block at the pub, I could run him over with my car four times and put him in a body cast, but as long as I don’t do it in front of the family it’s within our code.

Be Inkandesent: It sounds pretty Machiavellian.

Louis Ferrante: Oh, yes. The Mafia is the biggest Machiavelli organization in the world, and no one can out-Machiavelli me. When people try to be slick and sly with me, I catch it immediately. I realized that I could defend myself from someone who might try to do it against me and that I can use all the things I’ve learned on the streets to make money but do it with a moral code. And I knew that if I did that, I would be successful. And that’s what I did.

Be Inkandescent: In your book, “Mob Rules,” you make a case that while mobsters are selfish men who are out for personal gain—so are businessmen. Talk more about that idea.

Louis Ferrante: Well, obviously the Mob guys are greedy. They advertise that and they don’t try to say they’re not. But businessmen are just as greedy. I don’t care if you’re a politician or a businessman or a mobster—the bottom line is the buck. That’s what you’re out for every day.

In the Mob, people put the brakes on their greed because they know there are repercussions. If I’m really greedy and I beat Louie out of all of his money, he just might be waiting outside my house behind a bush one day and could easily shoot me. So why bother with this? Let them have their money.

In the real world, businesspeople don’t care. There are a lot of good businessmen who do live by a moral code and do pay their debts though. Those are the ones who go the farthest. I know quite a few of them. But there are some real louses out there, too.

Recently, in fact, I did somebody a favor and sent somebody to somebody else who made money with that person and it was understood that there would be some sort of commission for me, but it wasn’t in writing. I just took a shot with it. I knew the person and thought they were pretty cool. Done, never got a nickel out of it. That person doesn’t realize that they were very shortsighted. They lose me forever because I’ll never make the same mistake twice. I’m all the better for having seen their true nature.

Now, life is a process of weeding out people who aren’t greedy, who do see the long-term relationship as being more important. Those are the people I like to do business with.

Be Inkandescent: We talk about that in our Trifecta of Small Business Failure—that there are still people out there who only feel they’ve won in a deal if someone else loses. That’s not very progressive, especially in the new world where the Millennials rule, and they want everyone involved in a transaction to benefit.

Louis Ferrante: Right on. But I have encountered a number of businesspeople who will beat you if they can. It’s sad because they only see the short term. If they had any brains they would think, “Why burn this bridge?” But these sorts of businesspeople constantly have to find new people to beat.

Look at the housing market crash. If a guy owed me $100,000, and he told me, “I don’t have the money, Lou”, I’m not throwing him out of his house. How many people got thrown out of their house and got foreclosed on? The banks just said, “Too bad, you can’t make a mortgage payment, you’re gone. Take your 2 year old and your infant and get the hell out.” They didn’t care.

How many banks and mortgage brokers gave these people mortgages knowing that it was an adjustable rate loan and it could go up and they could get screwed. I would never do that. As a mobster I knew what the guy had. “How much do you make a week?” “I make $800 a week.” “Okay, can you afford to pay me $100 a week?” “Yeah, I can.”

Be Inkandescent: Clearly, your message has struck a chord worldwide. “Mob Rules” was also nominated for the prestigious business book award 800-CEO-READ Business Book Awards, was listed as one of Forbes columnist Marc Kramer’s “World’s Best Business Books,” and business skills have been highlighted in publications such as London’s Financial Times, The Times of India, Business Week, and Crain’s New York Business, to name a few. How does this type of success feel?

Louis Ferrante: It feels good. It feels like I know that life is what you put into it. And I felt like while I was in prison, I was paying for the things that I did. What I put into life I got out of it.

I ended up at a prison cell in a cage like an animal. That’s pretty much what I deserved. But I knew from paying and suffering punishments that if you lived right and did right, you would get rewards. And I felt that the universe would owe me an explanation if that’s not the way it panned out.

So I put a lot of hard work into getting somewhere. I’ve read thousands of books. I’m still an avid reader. I still believe in isolation and solitary time when I can just knock out 500-page books. I still do that. Treat people right. Just as I treated people bad and I paid for it, treat people right and that’s got to come back to you, too.

Be Inkandescent: You give back a lot. Tell us a little bit about some groups you work with.

Louis Ferrante: I do a lot of talks with the Young Presidents’ Organization, and the World Presidents’ Organization all over the country, and in Canada and South Africa. I do a lot of keynote addresses for different organizations.

Different companies bring me in all the time. And I love doing it. I keep in touch with the guys and gals that I meet at these places. I establish some really good friendships at these group meetings, so I really love doing these talks. It’s usually based on my book, “What the Mafia Can Teach You.”

Be Inkandescent: Were you ever concerned that the international business organizations wouldn’t take you seriously?

Louis Ferrante: You know it. And I thank God they did, because really there’s a lot to learn. If you read my book, you’ll get Mafia stories, but you’re also going to walk away with a lot of valuable things about how mobsters know how to do business. If you take away the pinstriped suit and the violin case and just measure them by their business savvy, these guys know how to do business.

When the Mafia was running on time, on schedule, up to code, it was a rocking organization. If you got hurt by the Mob it was because you deserved it. Now unfortunately, more and more people get hurt who don’t have it coming, and that bothered me.

Be Inkandescent: Before we let you go, give us insight into what you write about in the epilogue of “Mob Rules.” You advise: “Be a Pizza Eggroll.” What do you mean by that?

Louis Ferrante: Okay, so I have told you how mobsters pride themselves about being Machiavellian. They’ve never read, The Prince, and they’ve never read, The Discourses, and they don’t know exactly what Machiavelli wrote—but they have a sense that it means out-foxing somebody, which it does.

In the metaphor of the Pizza Eggroll, Machiavelli is the pizza. You should know and be able to sense a Machiavellian character. The eggroll is Confucius, who said that by virtue alone you should transcend everyone else. So if you run your company based on core values that you don’t compromise, and you avoid primitive instincts of just making money any way you can, then in the long run, if you abide by the philosophy of Confucius and Machiavelli, you will prevail.

There’s more! Be sure to read some of Louis Ferrante’s favorite Lessons for Soldiers (employees), Capos (middle managers), and Dons (the boss), in our November Entrepreneur of the Month feature.

And check out our podcast interview with Lou Ferrante on the Inkandescent Radio Network.

Whosoever knows how to fight well is not angry. Whosoever knows how to conquer enemies does not fight them.”

– Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

Are you willing to help other people succeed even when it’s not a requirement of your job to be of assistance?”

– Steven Schussler

Instead of loving your enemies, treat your friends a little better.”

– Edgar W. Howe

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”

– Groucho Marx

Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.”

– Basil King

That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

Friendship is the only cement that will hold the world together.”

– Woodrow Wilson

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.”

– Robert Louis Stevenson

I have spent a good part of my life convincing people that a blank sheet of paper is the greatest opportunity in the world, and not frightening at all.”

– Marty Skler, executive vp, Walt Disney Imagineering

I was taught at a very young age that you can do whatever you want to, but you have to make it happen — not just talk about it.”

– Kathleen Jo Ryan

They who give have all things. They who withhold have nothing.”

– Hindu Proverb

The journey is the reward.”

– Greg Norman

By your stumbling the world is perfected.”

– Sri Aurobindo

When I dare to be powerful—to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

– Audre Lorde

Just don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do.
 Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.”

– Ella Fitzgerald

Don’t follow, lead. Don’t copy, create. Don’t start, finish. Don’t sit still, move. Don’t fit in, stand out. Don’t sit quietly, speak up. (Not all the time, sure, but more often.)”

– Seth Godin

If you want to be busy, keep trying to be perfect. If you want to be happy, focus on making a difference.”

– Lisa Earle McLeod

Always look at what you have left. Never look at what you have lost.”

– Robert H. Schuller

My goal was to tell the life side of the story. We have become a nation of voyeurs that expect sensationalism, and that offends me.”

– Kathleen Jo Ryan

What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”

– Magical

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

– William Butler Yeats

Challenge is a dragon with a gift in its mouth. Tame the dragon and the gift is yours.”

– Noela Evans

The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions.”

– Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., U.S. Supreme Court justice

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly,
 what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Some things are destined to be—it just takes us a couple of tries
to get there.”

– J.R. Ward, Lover Mine

The critical ingredient is getting off your butt and doing something.”

– Nolan Bushnell, founder, Chuck E. Cheese's

A warrior cannot complain or regret anything. His life is an endless challenge, and challenges cannot possibly be good or bad. Challenges are simply challenges.”

– Carlos Castaneda

My job is my hobby. I come to work to play.”

– Uli Becker, president, Reebok International

When a dog runs at you, whistle for him.”

– Henry David Thoreau

Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible.”

– Helen Keller

Don’t wait for someone else to lead you to your right life; that privilege—and responsibility—is yours alone.”

– Martha Beck

Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value.”

– Albert Einstein

We need to learn to set our course by the stars, not by the lights of every passing ship.”

– General Omar Bradley

Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.”

– Robert Frost

There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.”


We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.”

– Charles R. Swindoll

The follow-your-gut mentality of the entrepreneur has the potential to take you anywhere you want to go or run you right out of business.”

– Bill Rancic, "The Apprentice"

As your desire is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny.”

– Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

That which grows fast withers as rapidly; that which grows slowly endures.”

– J.G. Holland, novelist

It is to no purpose to turn away from the real nature of the affair because the honor of its elements excites repugnance.

– Carl von Clausewitz, On War

No matter how difficult and painful it may be, nothing sounds as good to the soul as the truth.”

– Martha Beck, from "Leaving the Saints"

But all the while I was alone, the past was close behind, I seen a lot of women, but she never escaped my mind, and I just grew, tangled up in blue.”

– Bob Dylan

No longer talk at all about the kind of man a good man ought to be, but be such.”

– Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

Success is about finding a livelihood that brings joy, self-sufficiency, and a sense of contributing.”

– Anita Roddick

Sometimes the dreams that come true are the dreams you never even knew you had.”

– Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones

Permanence, perseverance and persistence in spite of all obstacles distinguishes the strong soul from the weak.”

– Thomas Carlyle

You don’t love someone because of their looks or their clothes or their car. You love them because they sing a song only your heart can understand.”

– L.J. Smith

The person who makes a success of living is the one who see his goal steadily and aims for it unswervingly. That is dedication.”

– Cecil B. DeMille

Why am I whispering when I have something to say?”

– Eve Ensler

The great use of life is to spend it on something that will outlast it.”

– William James

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