A dilemma in business is usually a choice that one must make between two outcomes that are both undesirable. For a great example, look no further than The Godfather, in which family patriarch Don Vito Corleone has to decide whether or not to enter the drug trade. As a reminder of this deal – that sets The Godfather’s whole plot in motion – read Tom Hagen’s notes here below:
“Sollozzo is known as the Turk. He’s supposed to be good with a knife, but only in matters of business with some sort of reasonable complaint. His business is narcotics. He has fields in Turkey where they grow poppy. In Sicily he has the plants to process them into heroin. Now, he needs cash, he needs protection from the police for which he gives a piece of the action. I couldn’t figure out how much. The Tattaglia family is behind him here in New York. They have to be in it for something. He is known as a top narcotics man.”
The Consiglieri Question: What would you advise Don Vito about the Turk’s proposal?
Now this is much more tricky as it may seem at first glance. Don Corleone is very well connected, but his current rackets (gambling, unions) are easily overlooked by corrupt police officers and politicians. Drugs: different story. So, entering this trade would create a major problem for the Don in maintaining his valuable business relationships which he also considers as dear personal friendships. On the other hand, the attractiveness of narcotics, moneywise, is way too big for the Mafia to resist. The Don’s major competitors will surely get involved with Sollozzo, and if the Corleones won’t play ball it might lead to serious conflict. Maybe even war. And off course, this is exactly what comes to pass.
The Don’s consigliere Tom Hagen seems to focus mostly on the second consideration. This is his advice to Don Vito: “Well I say yes. There’s more money potential in narcotics than anything else we’re looking at. Now if we don’t get into it, somebody else will. Maybe one of the five families, maybe all of them. Now with the money they earn, they can buy more police and political power. Then they come after us. Now, we have the unions and gambling, and they’re the best things to have, but narcotics is a thing of the future. If we don’t get a piece of that action, we risk everything we have. Not now, but ten years from now.”
Is Hagen right? Is it the smart play to help the Turk? If you consider the shitstorm the Corleone Family ended up in after Don Vito turned him down (“I must say ‘no’ to you, and I’ll give you my reasons”) you would probably say yes. Definitely yes. But maybe Vito’s answer wasn’t so wrong after all. You see, every business starts with the core principles of the founder(s). Vito started out by helping the community he lives in. Off course, he also used despicable violence against those who opposed him, but he didn’t believe in squeezing out poor people like the old Mustache Pete’s were doing in New York. Similarly, he thinks drugs will bring destruction to the communities they live and operate in. He knows very well that saying no to Sollozzo might lead to repercussions. But rather than going against his principles, he turns him down anyway.
And this a valuable lesson for any business leader dealing with a major dilemma. If one of the options goes against your core values and the other doesn’t, then you know what decision you have to make. Even if it means, you will have to deal with major negative consequences, at least you will have stayed true to your core principles. And in the end, this always lasts longer.
© Jeppe Kleyngeld, maart 2020