I've seen the movies before reading the book. I finally got around to picking up a copy of Mario Puzo's opus last year. He quoted the French novelist Balzac in his book, "Behind every great fortune there is a crime." And this quote sums up the whole experience of reading it. Puzo turned the deadly Mafia into a romance story.
Three of the quintessential Mafia movies that were ever made were the Francis Ford Coppola-helmed The Godfather trilogy. Coppola added to the myth and legend of the Cosa Nostra. He made them human.
The movies starred talented and passionate actors like Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire --- to name a few.
If you haven't seen the trilogy, this post is full of spoilers. Read at your risk but I guarantee that you'll be able to get a nugget or two out of it.
Even in that Tom Hanks film, "You've Got Mail", he was quoting business strategies based on The Godfather.
I never get tired of watching The Godfather movies. I have an annual The Godfather weekend. Even though it depicts violence and murder, there are lessons to be learned. And here are some of the things that resonate with me the most.
1. It's not personal, it's strictly business.
Don't take things personally, it would cloud your judgment. Focus on the task at hand. You won't get great results if you take things personally. Yes, it will hurt but don't dwell on it too long.
Facts first, emotions follow.
2. Loyalty is the key to any lasting relationship.
We've seen it happen often enough when s**t happens, people jumped ship.
Caporegime Salvatore Tessio got his comeuppance when he betrayed the Corleone family to Barzini. Don Corleone's body wasn't even buried yet when he showed his true colors.
Trust is important in business and you have to earn the trust and loyalty of your employees or clients. Without it, you can't accomplish anything. It's also a two-way street, both parties have to have this value.
3. Family above all else.
Isn't there a popular saying, "Blood is thicker than water"?
Fredo learned this the hard way. Never take sides against the family. Kay got separated from her children when she aborted their third child. Michael lost his own family as well because of the things that he had done. He killed his enemies, he murdered his brother, he separated Kay from their children.
Michael and Don Vito were the only ones in the family who really stayed true to it. Not once were they depicted having extra-marital affairs or such. They were for the preservation of it.
Don Vito to Johnny Fontane:
"You spend time with your family? Good. Because a man who doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man."
Their justification for their actions --- it was all done for the family.
“Fredo, you're my older brother, and I love you. But don't ever take sides with anyone against the Family again. Ever.”
4. Nepotism works, sometimes.
For a family business to endure and continue, a little nepotism works provided that there are proper succession planning and training. Who else can you trust but your own family?
This lesson works provided your progeny are capable of handling things. You have to prepare them to take over the business. They have to show their competency. Training is the key.
Another important aspect to be considered is, are they right for the job? As what Don Vito said to Tom Hagen, “I never thought you were a bad consigliere. I thought Santino was a bad don, rest in peace.”
5. Crime does not pay.
At first, it would seem that the Corleone family had everything --- power, wealth, connections ---but in the end, it cost them everything. That was one thing that people kept on repeating throughout the trilogy.
Sonny Corleone was killed because of his uncontrollable temper.
Michael executed people, got exiled and joined the family business.
Carlo Rizzi, Connie's husband, was murdered because of his betrayal.
Vito Corleone never wanted his youngest son, Michael, to be part of his business but in the end, he couldn't control things.
Michael had his own brother killed for betraying the family to Hyman Roth.
Mary Corleone, Michael and Kay's daughter, was killed in the crossfire. The bullet was intended for Michael. At the end of the story, Michael died all alone without family, friends nor his crew.
"Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in."
6. Don't let your rivals know what you're thinking.
This was good advice coming from Don Vito Corleone to his son, Sonny. Never say anything that your enemies or rivals can use against you. Don't think out loud when you're negotiating, don't let people outside your family or core group know what you're planning or thinking. It's not good business practice.
Don Vito to Sonny:
“What's the matter with you? Never tell anybody outside the family what you're thinking again.”
7. Be Cool. Don't lose your temper.
Look what happened to Sonny Corleone, he was ambushed and killed because he let his emotions take the best of him. He was not good Don material because he couldn't think straight because he let his temper do the thinking. He succumbs to his impulses easily. He didn't use his rational mind a lot; he was in his limbic system all the time.
Don Vito's advice to Michael:
“Never get angry. Never make a threat. Reason with people.”
8. Revenge is never sweet.
The end does not justify the means. Righting a wrong with another wrong does not work. Revenge is a dish best served cold. For every action, there is always an equal reaction.
Don Vito to Don Tattaglia:
“You talk about vengeance. Is vengeance going to bring your son back to you or my boy to me? I forego the vengeance of my son."
9. Don't mix business with pleasure.
When you want to be taken seriously and get things right, there should be no dancing girls, no band playing in the background. Business is business. Too many distractions will take you off course. Fredo learned this the hard way when Michael visited him in Las Vegas.
Michael to his brother, Fredo:
“I'm here on business, I leave tomorrow. Now get rid of them. Come on, I'm tired. Get rid of the band, too.”
10. You have to give respect, to earn respect.
Moe Green is proof of this. He belittled and slapped Fredo around, he confronted Michael, and he threatened to go to Barzini. He showed so much disrespect towards the Corleone family, that he didn't get any at the end.
Don Vito to Bonasera:
"But now you come to me and you say --- 'Don Corleone give me justice.' ---But you don't ask with respect. You don't offer friendship. You don't even think to call me Godfather. Instead, you come into my house on the day my daughter is to be married, and you ask me to do murder, for money."
11. Favors are never free.
When you ask for a favor, expect to return that favor. It might take years but you’ll always have an opportunity to return the favor.
Don Vito to Amerigo Bonasera:
“Someday and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me. Until that day accept this justice as a gift on my daughter's wedding day.”
Who says you can't learn anything from watching the movies? Whether you read the book or do a movie marathon, I guarantee that you'll enjoy every bloody minute of it.
You'll get hooked on the trilogy just by watching that opening scene in the first The Godfather.