Educating himself in literature, religious studies and the law, Ferrante got one of his convictions overturned and was released after serving eight and a half years. Now, he's a motivational speaker and author. His most recent book: Mob Rules: What the Mafia Can Teach the Legitimate Businessman.
During a recent interview on the Motley Fool Money radio show, Ferrante shared a few tips for anyone looking to get ahead in the business world.
No. 1: The Mafia is like any other business.
While the Mafia life is glamorized in movies and television, the reality is the business of the Mafia operates like any other company, complete with middle managers.
The middle managers are usually like capos, usually captains of crews. It's built just like a corporation. Your underboss is a vice president. Your boss is a CEO. And you have outside consultants. They're called consiglieres. Usually there's one strong consigliere in the family, but there are also a lot of guys who consult; who the boss may consult with, who the underboss may consult with. It's built just like a corporation.
No. 2: Get your own coffee!
There's a fine line between following the chain of command and spending your time doing nothing but taking orders. In prison, Ferrante found a way to send a message to one of his elders that Ferrante wasn't going to be his errand boy.
A high-ranking Gambino family boss was in jail with me, and he asked me to iron an outfit for him. And I said, "Hey, I don't do my own pants. I pay somebody to do them." So he asked me again. And because of his high rank (he was twice my age) and he had a tremendous amount of respect, I guess he thought because I was a Gambino guy also, he could ask me to do that. Well, I asked the guy who ironed my pants to crumple them up into a ball and press them and make them look even worse than they were, and I gave them back to him. And I said, "This is the best I could do." And he got the message, and I got a laugh out of it, too.
And I said, "Listen. No offense. I don't iron pants. I'm not here facing the rest of my life in prison because I wanted to work in a laundromat. I could have gotten that job easily, and never had worries about the FBI." So he laughed, and we got along after that. And in the end, to make sure he was my friend, I used my connections at the prison laundry to get him a brand new uniform, gave it to him, shook his hand, smiled, and he gave me tremendous respect after that. He would never ask me to do a menial task, again. So, there are ways in the corporate world where, if a boss is abusing you and sending you for coffee every day at Starbucks, you can let the boss get the message in a funny way.
No. 3: Don't build Yankee Stadium. Just supply the concrete.
In another era, the mob could obtain the huge contract to build a new skyscraper. Today, the mob is forced to focus on the hundreds, if not thousands, of ancillary needs of a large project, from concrete to plastics to food to signage.
No. 4 Leave the gun, take the cannoli ... and beware of hubris
I was with mobsters who'd sit in a coffee shop and say, "OK. They're building a stadium smack in the middle of the Bronx. This is our territory. How can we move in?" Well, we could start by opening up sausage and pepper stands when the workers get there and hot dog stands. Make sure all the workers are supplied with our food. Then we could definitely try to get some of the concrete contracts. Then we could get the flagpoles." I know a guy, Bobby Flagpole. He sells flagpoles. I'll get the flagpoles from Bobby and we'll see if we can get them cheap enough where we could get the contract for flagpoles."
The sign. "Oh, I know Johnny Signs. Johnny Signs makes signs over in Brooklyn. Maybe we could make the Y, the A, the N, the K, the double E's and the S for the stadium sign." And they'll try to really attack that stadium from every different direction. And there might be profitable areas that other people would turn their nose up at, and the mob will run into.
So this is what the mob does, and they really, really then work hard at getting anything that could be put to use in that stadium by the main general contractor. And they work at getting those contracts. They use their networking capabilities to get those contracts, too. And networking's huge in the mob. Every mobster has a huge list of legit and illegit friends who he could turn to, to try to get something accomplished.
Anyone who has seen The Godfather is familiar with the classic movie quote, "Leave the gun, take the cannoli." For Louis Ferrante, the saying is representative of his leaving his mafia life in the past while taking the sweet lessons he'd learned along the way.
There was an integrity that we did share when we were doing business correctly with each other. There were a number of mobsters who did business the right way, not greedy guys. We did not resort to violence all the time, and we made a lot of money doing things the right way. So that was the cannoli, the sweet things I'd learned along the way.
Ferrante went on to illustrate how hubris has a way of taking down even the most successful leaders.
The second part of that chapter is a very, very stern warning to people who make it to the top and get a little dizzy at the heights. The example I used was a national leader, Adolf Hitler, who brought Germany to its ruin. I used a mafia leader, John Gotti. He was a good boss, but he had a lot of character flaws, and he brought the mob to its ruin by being so flashy and causing so much attention. And the last leader I used was Ken Lay, who participated in bringing Enron to its ruin.
Chris Hill is the host of the Motley Fool Money radio show and MarketFoolery, The Motley Fool's daily podcast. This interview was edited for length.