Who are the Five Families in ‘The Godfather’?

There are a lot of references in Mario Puzo’s famous novel to ‘The Five Families’, which doesn’t seem to include the Corleone Family.

For example in the following passage: ‘For the last year the Corleone Family had waged war against the five great Maffia Families of New York and the carnage had filled the newspapers. If the five families include the Corleone’s, then why doesn’t it say: … against the other four great Mafia Families?

There are many other references, like: ‘The heads of the Five Families made frantic efforts to prepare a defence against the bloody retaliatory war that was sure to follow Sonny’s death.’ Or: ‘The Five Families and the Corleone Empire were in stalemate.’

Then the big meeting of bosses comes, so we can finally learn who the Five Families are and Puzo messes it up. It reads: ‘The representatives of the Five Families of New York were the last to arrive and Tom Hagen was struck by how much more imposing, impressive, these five men were than the out-of-towners, the hicks. For one thing, the five New York Dons were in the old Sicilian tradition, they were ‘men with a belly’ meaning, figuratively, power and courage; and literally, physical flesh, as if the two went together, as indeed they seemed to have done in Sicily. The five New York Dons were stout, corpulent men with massive leontine heads, features on a large scale, fleshy imperial noses, thick mouths, heavy folded cheeks. They had the look of no-nonsense busy men without vanity.’

Don Corleone is already there from the beginning, so you would expect five bosses to be introduced now, but we only get four: Anthony Stracci, Ottilio Cuneo, Emilio Barzini and Philip Tattaglia. What the hell?!?!

There is also another passage here pointing to five families besides the Corleones. It reads: ‘Of the five New York Families opposing the Corleones, Stracci was the least powerful but the most well disposed.’ That proves it: there is a family missing here.

Yes, in real-life there are five New York Families (Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese, Lucchese) and not six, but these passages in the novel make it very clear that the Corleone Empire is NOT considered as one of the five. Why did Puzo create this unclear situation? This seems rather sloppy for a capable writer like him.

Francis Ford Coppola could have corrected this mistake in the movie, but he didn’t. The movie also includes a few of these references. Like Tom Hagen proclaiming: “All the five families would come after you, Sonny.…” Or Don Vito saying: “I want you to arrange a meeting with the heads of the Five Families.”

I have searched for an answer, but found nothing. We, lovers of popular culture, will have to live forever with this frustrating, inconsequent, mess-up. Good luck with that.

The Don’s Dilemma Reconsidered

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 Kleijngeld, maart 2020

De filosofie van Breaking Bad

Let op: bevat spoilers over het einde

Zoals ik gedacht en gehoopt had, was het einde van Breaking Bad spectaculair. De ongelofelijke saga van Walter White eindigt bevredigender dan ik me zelfs maar voor mogelijk had gehouden. De makers hebben hun publiek precies de adrenaline shot gegeven, die nodig was om deze trip af te sluiten.

In deze blog wil ik terugkijken op de serie met als focus de filosofische grondslagen van Breaking Bad, een serie die laat zien hoe een goede, of in ieder geval fatsoenlijke man, verandert in een ware slechterik. Walter begon als nerdy scheikundeleraar in het eerste seizoen. En vijf seizoenen verder is hij veranderd in de meedogenloze drugsbaron Heisenberg. Breaking Bad toont ons hoe één enkele beslissing – genomen door een man die aan de rand van de afgrond staat – iemand kan transformeren tot gruwelijk slecht mens in staat tot de meest verwerpelijke daden.

In het begin van de serie vertelt Walter zijn leerlingen dat scheikunde de studie van materie is, maar eigenlijk nog meer de studie van verandering. Dit is een prachtige metafoor voor Walter’s eigen verandering – molecuul voor molecuul – tot monster van duivelse proporties. Nadat hij te horen heeft gekregen dat hij longkanker heeft, besluit Walter – vanuit de veronderstelling dat hij niet lang meer te leven heeft, en hij zijn familie wat geld wil nalaten (zijn vrouw Skyler is net zwanger van hun tweede kind), zijn opmerkelijke scheikundige kennis in te zetten om crystal meth te gaan produceren. De rest van Breaking Bad laat de gevolgen zien van deze ene beslissing. En die gevolgen zijn verschrikkelijker dan iedereen, zeker inclusief Walter, voor mogelijk kon houden.

Wat dat betreft blijft Breaking Bad trouw aan zijn scheikundige basis; elke actie heeft een gevolg, soms klein en soms – onverwachts – gigantisch groot. In de befaamde introscènes ontmoeten we vaak karakters die we niet kennen, die een gruwelijk lot moeten ondergaan vanwege een beslissing die Walter ergens heeft genomen. Uiteindelijk is Walter direct of indirect verantwoordelijk voor de dood van wel honderden mensen. Doordat hij Jane laat sterven in seizoen 2, raakt haar vader, een luchtverkeersleider, zo in de war dat hij per ongeluk twee vliegtuigen op elkaar laat botsen boven de stad Albuquerque. De ravage die dit veroorzaakt is een mooie visuele metafoor voor de puinhoop die Walter aanricht in de levens om zich heen.

Bryan Cranston/Walter White - a.k.a. Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde Illustratie gevonden op http://redeyerogue.com/walter-white-the-supervillain

Bryan Cranston/Walter White – a.k.a. Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
Illustratie gevonden op http://redeyerogue.com/walter-white-the-supervillain

Zo zijn er de onzichtbare gebruikers van meth die hun levens verwoest zien. Maar deze junkies zijn gemakkelijk te rationaliseren voor Walter – ze zouden het toch wel gebruiken, ook zonder Heisenberg’s productie. En Walter’s eerste moorden zijn ook op deze manier te beredeneren. De methwereld is een gewelddadige, dus voor wie zich daarin begeeft is het doden of gedood worden. De dood van Jane is een keerpunt wat dat betreft. Dat Walter toestaat dat zij in haar eigen braaksel stikt heeft niets te maken met zelfverdediging, maar puur met Walter die zijn egoïstische koers wil voortzetten. Hij heeft Jesse nodig als partner en Jane leidt hem af van zijn werk.

Walter’s initiële beslissing is gedreven door de nobele (en volledig begrijpelijke) wens om zijn familie te helpen. Maar volgens filosoof Kierkegaard zijn het vaak juist goede bedoelingen die situaties verergeren, zoals irrigatie mensen water verschaft voor landbouw, maar ook vreselijke ziektes kan veroorzaken. Al snel wordt Walter niet langer gedreven door goede bedoelingen, maar door trots – de gevaarlijkste zonde die er bestaat. Zijn voormalige studievrienden, die een succesvol farmaceutisch bedrijf hebben opgericht, bieden aan voor zijn behandeling te betalen – maar Walter weigert. Hij krijgt vervolgens nog verschillende kansen om de meth business achter zich te laten (zijn kanker gaat zelfs in remissie), maar hij zet zijn slechte daden voort met alle vreselijke gevolgen van dien. Het is zijn egogedreven trots die de katalysator vormt naar al zijn andere zonden.

Zoals de kanker langzaam zijn lichaam verwoest, vreet de morele erosie langzaam Walter’s ziel weg. Tegen het einde van seizoen 4 is hij in staat een klein jongetje te vergiftigen, om hem te helpen zijn doelen te verwezenlijken. Dit zou in het begin ondenkbaar zijn geweest, maar het proces van slecht worden gaat geleidelijk. Walt’s onverschilligheid naar zijn meth slachtoffers, en zijn eerste moorden gepleegd uit zelfbehoud, maken zijn latere grote slechte daden mogelijk. In termen van zijn uiteindelijke bestemming, zijn al zijn eerdere, schijnbaar kleine, beslissingen net zo schadelijk gebleken als zijn grote. Het toegeven aan corruptie, in welke mate dan ook, veroorzaakt uiteindelijk groot lijden. Dat is de echte boodschap van Breaking Bad. Tegen het einde van het eerste deel van seizoen 5 is Heisenberg veranderd in een echte meth koning. De simultaan gepleegde moordaanslagen op acht gevangenen, laat dan ook een parallel zien met het einde van The Godfather, waarin Michael Corleone de hoofden van de vijf families laat vermoorden, en de macht overneemt.

Maar het is maar zeer de vraag of Walter echt slecht is geworden gedurende de serie, of dat de situatie slechts iets ontwaakt heeft dat er al zat. Maker van de serie Vince Gilligan bevestigt dit in een interview in Rolling Stone. ‘Walter’s kanker zorgt dat hij wakker wordt. Hij heeft geslaapwandeld door de eerste vijf decennia van zijn leven, en zijn plotselinge gebrek aan beperkingen en belemmeringen, staan hem toe de persoon te worden die hij eigenlijk is. En die persoon is verre van alleen maar goed.’

Natuurlijk is Breaking Bad ook een morele aanval op het publiek. Hoe walgelijk Walter ook is, toch blijf je aan zijn kant staan wanneer hij het bijvoorbeeld opneemt tegen Gus Fring. Het bekende christelijke gezegde ‘haat de zonde, maar houd van de zondaar’, is hier van toepassing. We hopen dat hij een lesje krijgt, maar willen niet dat hij krijgt wat hij eigenlijk verdient. Uiteindelijk geeft Gilligan het publiek precies dat. Nadat Walter zijn voormalige partner heeft uitgeleverd aan Jack’s bende, één van zijn walgelijkste daden, besluit hij aan het einde Jesse te bevrijden en de slechteriken om zeep te helpen. Ook geeft hij aan zijn vrouw toe dat hij het eigenlijk niet allemaal voor zijn familie heeft gedaan, maar voor zichzelf. In isolatie in New Hampshire, heeft Walter toch een moment van inzicht gekregen.

Met zijn laatste daden, krijgt Walter voor zijn onvermijdelijke dood toch wat verlossing. En wij – het publiek ook – voor het aan Walter’s kant staan. Bedankt daarvoor Vince Gilligan, alsook voor het meesterwerk dat je ons gegeven hebt. Je serie is niet alleen Breaking Bad, maar ook Breaking Best geworden. Het zou wel eens lang kunnen duren, voordat er weer een serie van dit kaliber verschijnt.

Icon 10 - Chemistry

10 Management Lessons From Highly Successful Gangsters

By Jeppe Kleijngeld

Running a large company or criminal empire, what’s the difference? The demands for its managers and leaders are very similar for sure. As a leader, your vision needs to inspire others and your actions need to have significant impact. You also need to be able to effectively solve problems and prevent painful blunders. Taking a close look at 10 highly successful gangsters from popular movies and television series can be inspirational. Eventually most of them went down, but they all had impressive careers as criminal CEO’s. What can business leaders learn from their successful approaches and significant failures?

1. Plan all your actions carefully
Neil McCauley
The Gangster: Neil McCauley, Heat

The Lesson: In the spectacular opening scene of Michael Mann’s Heat, criminal chief Neil McCauley and his team of robbers manage to take down a huge score. The key to their success? Planning, planning, planning. McCauley is a perfectionist; every detail needs to be scrupulously prepared, nothing can be left to coincidence. It there is even a slight chance that something is wrong; he will walk away from a job no matter how much money is at stake. Off course, there is a slight bump in the road for McCauley and his team later on, but that is only because pulling armed robberies is a highly volatile business. But even with a terrific investigation team on their tail lead by a fanatical Al Pacino, they manage to take down another – even larger – score later on in the movie.

2. Build a team you can rely on
Joe Cabot
The Gangster: Joe Cabot, Reservoir Dogs

The Lesson: ‘I should have my head examined for going with someone I wasn’t a 100 percent on…’ Yeah, you should have Joe. As a manager, your most important task is to choose the right people around you and make them perform optimally. When you have a crucial project to realise – a diamond heist in Joe Cabot’s case – you don’t want to take any chances on whom you hire for the job. Joe’s negligence at this point, allowed a special LAPD-agent to infiltrate his crew, leading to a disastrous outcome for the project and all those involved.

3. Always look out for opportunities and know when to strike
Henry Hill
The Gangster: Henry Hill, GoodFellas

The Lesson: In Wiseguy, the novel on which the classic mob movie GoodFellas is based, protagonist Henry Hill describes his bewonderment at how lazy many people are. Great entrepreneurs like him are always looking for new ways to make money. Once in a while, a golden opportunity arises and a highly successful business manager will recognize this once in a lifetime chance and grab it. In Henry Hill’s case, this was the Air France heist in 1967. He walked away with 420.000 US dollars from the Air France cargo terminal at JFK International Airport without using a gun; the largest cash robbery that had taken place at the time. This was Hill’s ticket to long term success within the Mafia.

4. Analyse, decide and execute with conviction
Michael Corleone
The Gangster: Michael Corleone, The Godfather

The Lesson: Your success as executive depends for a great deal on the way you make decisions and follow them through. When his father, family patriarch Don Vito Corleone, is shot by Virgil ‘The Turk’ Sollozzo, Michael Corleone knows the threat of his father’s killing will not be over until Sollozo is dead. That is his analysis. Then, without any hesitation, he decides to kill Sollozo despite the hard consequences that he knows will follow. The third part – the execution – he performs flawlessly, killing Sollozo and his bodyguard Police Captain McCluskey in a restaurant. Michael later in the film again proves to be an extremely decisive leader when he has the heads of the five families killed when they conspire against the Corleone family.

5. Support the local community
Young Vito Corleone
The Gangster: Young Vito Corleone, The Godfather Part II

The Lesson: For long term success, you need more than just great products (in the mob’s case: protection, gambling and theft). You will need commitment from all your stakeholders and especially goodwill from the communities you operate in. Young Vito Corleone sees that gangster boss Fanucci is squeezing out everybody in the neighbourhood he lives in. Nobody is happy with him. So he murders Fanucci and takes over as neighbourhood chieftain. Rather than squeezing out people, he starts helping them. Every favour he does for somebody, earns him a favour in return. Those are a lot of favours and a lot of people who think he deserves his success and wealth. They are willing to give everything for their Don.

6. Don’t be afraid to use your subconscious
Tony Soprano
The Gangster: Tony Soprano, The Sopranos

The Lesson: As a leader, you want to base your decisions on hard facts as much as possible, but sometimes your intuition is much more powerful than the greatest performance dashboard in the world. In the first season of HBO’s monumental Mafia series The Sopranos, family patriarch Tony Soprano’s own mother tries to have him whacked. He had revealing dreams about this before it happened, but refused to look at the painful true meaning of these dreams. Through therapy, he learned to use his subconscious like a true expert, so when his friend Big Pussy Bonpensiero starts ratting for the FBI in season 2, he knows something is wrong. In a fever dream, Big Pussy (as a fish), reveals the hard truth to Tony. When he wakes up, he knows exactly what to do. Big Pussy must sleep with the fishes. Tony’s new ability to listen to his subconscious makes him a much more effective leader.

7. Think and act faster
Nucky Thompson
The Gangster: Nucky Thompson, Boardwalk Empire

The Lesson: After a botched assassination attempt on bootlegger and crooked politician Nucky Thompson, his enemies are left numb and indecisive of what to do next. Nucky – on the other hand – immediately makes a counter move. He goes to see his enemies and tells them the attempt on his life changed his perspective on things. He will abandon the bootlegging business and politics, so his enemies can take over. In secret however, Nucky books a trip to Ireland the next day, where he purchases a huge amount of cheap and highly qualitative Irish whiskey. His enemies underestimated him. By thinking and acting faster than his opponents, Nucky manages to surprise them and outperform them in business.

8. Take compliance seriously
Al Capone
The Gangster: Al Capone, The Untouchables

The Lesson: He was the king of his trade; the bootlegging business in Chicago. He made millions importing booze and selling it to bars and clubs. The thing that brought him down was income tax evasion. Managers can learn a simple truth from this mistake; compliance is your license to operate. Off course in Capone’s case this was a little different because he did not have any legal income to begin with, but many CEO’s of businesses have fallen into the same compliance trap. Sure, sometimes it is cheaper to pay a fine than to spend a fortune on meeting some obsolete policy, but you should never fail to answer to the most important rules and regulations. So even when it is sometimes tempting to bend the rules, in the end: being non-compliant is always more costly than being compliant.

9. Ride the Industry Waves
Tony Montana
The Gangster: Tony Montana, Scarface

The Lesson: Every industry has its waves, and a great CEO knows how to ride these waves. Take the drug business in the 1980’s. Cocaine was coming up big time in Florida. After Montana gets rid of his weak boss Frank, he sets up a massive cocaine trade in Miami and surroundings. His supply chain is very efficient. He imports the stuff straight from the source in Bolivia. Nobody can compete with that. It isn’t before long that Montana is Florida’s one and only cocaine king.

10. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer
Don Vito Corleone
The Gangster: Don Vito Corleone, The Godfather

The Lesson: You want to know what your competitors are up to? Invite them over for dinner and a meeting. Don Vito Corleone does it all the time. When he invites the heads of the five families for a sit down, in this powerful scene in The Godfather, he learns a great deal. It is not Tattaglia he should worry about, but that treacherous Barzini. Now that he understands the conspiracy against the Corleone family, he can help his son Michael take the necessary precautions.