While few want to be associated with an organized crime syndicate, the management style and wisdom of Vito Corleone was far reaching and has great practical applications as to how we live and what we might value (albeit annotated and edited). Given the opportunity to know anyone in history, actual or fictional, my choice would be Don Corleone. I, along with many others, view Coppola’s Godfather films as masterpieces (I and II) and the lessons his characters taught us are timeless. Remember the opening scene…?
Amerigo Bonasera is waiting ‘on line’ to have an audience with the Godfather while attending the wedding of Connie Corleone, Vito’s daughter. At the Godfather’s desk, Bonesera says, “I believe in America. America has made my fortune. I raised my daughter in the American fashion. I gave her freedom but, I taught her never to dishonor her family.” As you might remember, this little soliloquy was the result of Bonasera’s daughter being raped and beaten by some neighborhood thugs and he was seeking justice since the courts did not dispense such at the conclusion of their trial. While the Godfather was not immediately keen to fill this request for a variety of reasons, he reluctantly gave his assurances that the matter would be handled directly…but not by taking a life since no life was taken during the commission of the crime.
The takeaway for me was…the legal system is designed to interpret and apply the law, which is does quite well. The dispensation of justice is another matter. While justice may be its objective, often it is a mere ancillary byproduct of that system. Justice is another matter and occasionally, it is accomplished via ‘non- traditional’ means (not all of which meets with my approval). Somehow, I’ve always known that. I don’t know if this was a learned lesson as a result of observation, or if it was just organically there. I just knew it very early in life and it was reinforced with that scene. While very colorful, John Gotti was not the most quotable character of the 20th century, but he once said, “We have our own system of jurisprudence in Little Italy” in answer to the question of, “why such a very low crime rate in that section of NYC when compared with other neighborhoods?
…a theme central to the first Godfather film was the consideration of Don Corleone’s ‘family’ entering the narcotics business at the invitation of Virgil Sollozzo…a Sicilian thug who was a ‘wanna be’ player without portfolio…no capital, connections nor political influence. Four of the five families concurred with this new enterprise because of its potential profitability leaving the Corleone’s uncommitted. At a ‘sit down’ with the heads of the five families, Sonny (Vito’s second son and heir apparent) was offering his voice on the matter which displeased his father for a host of reasons not the least of which was tipping the family’s hand to the competition. This is a serious error in sports, business and within all Italian families…legit or otherwise.
The Don was a thoughtful man with vision, insight and a sense of propriety about his ventures. He viewed his businesses as vice which provided that which people sought…recreation. “How a man makes his living is none of my business, you understand, but gambling, booze and broads isn’t dope” reflected his opinion on the matter. Many of his enterprises were deemed harmless vices which provided relief from the arduous business of managing our lives. Narcotics, however was another matter. The Godfather saw this as “destructive and dangerous” for both clients and providers…more so for providers. I admired his courage to walk away from a game changing business venture which reflected his ability to manage the ‘greed monster’ and to protect that which was his livelihood. This was the result of what business academics might call a cost/benefit analysis where one measures the long term effect as a result of the effort required, then asks the great question… “is the juice worth the squeeze?”
I respected Don Vito’s decision. My first take away was found in that noble act of passing on a highly profitable but “destructive and dangerous” venture. More significant, was his commitment to protecting that which he deemed more important… his current enterprises which served the Corleone family well. This sentiment is best reflected in the following quote: “I have a sentimental weakness for my children and I’ve spoiled them as you can see. They talk when they should listen,” referring to Sonny publicly expressing his opinion at the meeting table. “But anyway Signor Sollozzo, my no is final. And I wish to congratulate you on your new business; I know you’ll do very well, and good luck…especially since your interests don’t conflict with mine.” It is inferred however, that a price shall be exacted should that state of affairs change. In Yiddish, there is a transliterated expression that sounds like “gay and gizenta hate,” which means something like “go, and be well.” I live by that little axiom. I don’t want to run your life or anyone else’s. I just want to run mine, but if your interests interfere with mine…you shall be in a fight. We protect that which we value, and what we value become priorities.
On Street Cred
…young Vito Corleone (DiNiro) was gainfully employed in a general store until Don Fanucci instructed the owner to hire Sal Fanucci (not sure of name), his newly arrived immigrant nephew necessitating a replacement. This ‘request’ could not be denied. The local Don ran the neighborhood and lack of cooperation would result in unspoken hardship. Everyone got it. Vito was now unemployed and he graciously accepted his fate so as not to burden his boss with additional guilt. At the same time, Vito’s neighbor, Pete Clemenza asked for a favor which entailed hiding a gun. As a ‘thank you’ Clemenza invited his new found friend to ‘partner up’ in some nefarious activities including burglary and selling hot merchandise. Vito accepted the offer and was now on his way to infamy.
In a scene where Don Fanucci jumps onto the partners’ truck loaded with stolen dresses, he confiscates several garments for his daughters while asking for a tribute payment which was customary and necessary. The demand was for more money than the boys were willing to pay. To that end, Vito meets with Don Fanucci in a café and presents less than the required but anticipated tribute. The Don was angered but impressed with Vito’s bold counter offer. He then promptly invited Vito to work for him. Unimpressed, young Vito did not believe in entitlements without providing service, so he ‘dispatched’ Fanucci in a dimly lit hallway leading to the Don’s apartment. From that moment on, everyone knew Vito Corleone as a ‘serious man.’ That event created the ‘Corleone Family’ which grew into that well organized and highly profitable crime syndicate Puzzo and Coppola so deftly described. What I took from this portion of the story was the notion that you are ‘nobody’ until you accomplish something of value…albeit a murder. Something clicked with me as a result of that scene.
At the conclusion of my first season coaching high school gymnastics in the CIF (governing body for high school sports in CA), I attended the annual coaches’ meeting where rules changes were presented for the ensuing season. Our team at South Hills High School did well for our first time out and our kids went 11-1 with a conference championship. We were pretty bad but our competition was worse. While at that meeting, I suggested that we adopt the FIG (Federation of International Gymnastics) system of scoring rather than the current but antiquated system which had been in place for many years. The CIF Commissioner conducted that session and when the call for rules changes came up, I raised my hand and was promptly addressed as ’the guy in the back with the tie.’ I proposed my rules change and the motion was soundly defeated…by like 90-10 against. This was somewhat humbling in that my motion was not only a good rule change but the right rule change since everyone globally had adopted it many years prior…except the CIF.
A year later, our team did well again. We were getting better…much better and our kids went 13-1 and won another conference championship. At the season’s end I attended that same CIF rules meeting and proposed the same scoring change. This time the Commissioner addressed me as, ‘the guy from South Hills.’ My motion was defeated but not by as wide a margin…like 60-40 against. During our third season, we went 14-0, won another conference championship and were ranked within the top ten teams in California. This time something dramatically different occurred at that CIF rules meeting. The Commissioner addressed me as, ‘Al Marino from South Hills’ and my proposal passed something like 90-10 in favor.
My rule change recommendation was no different in form or substance the third time out when compared with my earlier attempts. What changed?…an accomplishment which established CREDIBILITY! My personal take away was and still is…you have to succeed at what is in place prior to effecting change otherwise any effort toward that end will be viewed as “whining ‘cause ya can’t win under the current structure.” Attempting change without having achieved in the ‘what is’ will likely prevent the ‘what can be.’ Accomplish something first, then maybe you’ll be heard. Maybe!