Business Lessons From… Pablo Escobar
One of the things I love about life is learning things through experiences where you didn’t expect a lesson. Like when my obsession over PokemonGo led me to see how it relates to personal finance. Or how traveling to L.A. taught me that just because you spend money on something doesn’t mean that it’s bound to be high-quality. And something I’ve noticed, just in being a patient observer, is that there are loads of lessons about business in places where you wouldn’t necessarily find them. So I’ve decided that once a month, I’ll do a featured section where I dissect lessons learned from a specific source in culture. It might be Nike, Hello Kitty, Tom Cruise, or Gary Dahl (inventor of the “Pet Rock”). Today’s lessons are going to be from the world’s richest former criminal and best-known Columbian… Pablo Escobar.
Now, before we get started, I KNOW THAT HE KILLED A TON OF PEOPLE, INCLUDING POLICE OFFICERS, CIVILIANS, JUDGES, AND POLITICIANS. I’m not condoning his actions, or even saying that YOU, dear reader, should follow in his footsteps. The man was a terrorist and murderer. That being said, he was also the 7th richest man in the world at one point, which you don’t become just by killing people. Today, we’re going to explore Pablo Escobar’s life to see what lessons we can take away.
Quick side note: no one ostracized Ollivander when he told Harry Potter that the dude who killed his parents, and shit load of other wizards AND muggles, was great. If you didn’t throw your popcorn at him in the theater, then don’t yell at me for writing this now. <3
Let’s call it out for what it is: over half of the world’s current billionaires have earlier generations of family to thank. Pablo Escobar, on the other hand, came from pretty much nothing. And while Mark Zuckerberg (family was upper middle-class dentists) and Larry Ellison (adopted father was a government worker) didn’t come from a substantial amount of wealth, Pablo Escobar’s family was poor. Like really poor. Like house-made-from-car-parts poor. His father was a farmer, and his mother was a school teacher. Not really the things that great riches are made of.
But from a very young age Pablo was known to think himself destined for great things. Things like the Presidency of Columbia (thank God THAT didn’t happen). And while he didn’t climb as high as he’d like on the political ladder, he certainly achieved enough wealth to do so (even if it was through ill-gotten means).
In summation, a lack of money, power, or family prestige did not stop “Pablito” from getting where to was to where he (almost) wanted to be. That sort of drive is priceless in business, as you are bound to hear many more “No’s”, “You can’t do that’s”, and “That’s already been done’s”. Fuck it, push through the negativity to start whatever organization you wish.
EVERYTHING is Negotiable
I came from a household built on rules. My Dad was in the military for over 20 years, and to say that influenced my upbringing would be a MAJOR understatement. With the result that I’m used to assuming the same thing about the world; that it’s built on certain rules.
Well, as I’m still learning, this is SO not the case. People are people everywhere and pretty much anything you want to negotiate can be negotiated, depending on how far you’re willing to go. Example:
Pablo Escobar went on what can only be described as a rampage of terror. After having been “kicked-out” of the House Of Representatives due to his illegal business practices, he proceeded to kidnap the families of politicians, assassinate several people in Medellin, and even bombed an aircraft killing over 100 people.
Yep. Worst. Temper. Tantrum. Ever.
He was pissed and became one of the more notorious criminals in the world by doing this. And my American mindset says, “Just break open every door with the Stars and Stripes behind you and screaming bald eagles overhead, and just bust ass till you find the sunuvabitch and lock him up till he rots.” But the President of Columbia just wanted the bombings and killings to stop. So he negotiated with Pablo Escobar, and here’s what Pablo got out of the deal:
- A prison, La Catedral, was constructed by… Pablo Escobar.
- Built on land dictated by… Pablo Escobar.
- Furnished with pool tables, casino, dance club, Jacuzzi, waterfall, and soccer pitch, as designed by… Pablo Escobar.
- Was to serve a maximum of 5 years in return for not being extradited to the U.S. negotiated by… Pablo Escobar.
- Prison to be guarded by men hired by… Pablo Escobar.
… and I’m sure you’re starting to see the point. Basically, this one single man was able to negotiate with the entire government of Columbia. And while I’m sure the laws for murder were much more severe than “5 years in a jacuzzi-laden prison that you built”, the government was willing to negotiate just to get this fucker off the streets and stop the bombings.
If Pablo Escobar could negotiate and get laws changed just for him, then surely you can negotiate 10% off an advertisers fee, or negotiate terms for how much you’ll pay your accountant. Never forget, EVERYTHING is negotiable.
Just please don’t start bombing shit to get what you want. #notcoolbruh
The most common mantra in real estate is “Location, location, location.” The point being that pretty much all value from real estate is derived from where the plot of land/house/building is. Well, with many businesses, you’ll find that location matters just about as much. Allow me to explain:
Much of the cocaine that was making it’s way to the U.S. was actually being manufactured in Peru and Bolivia. If it was being made in those countries, but sold in the U.S., then Columbia was one of a number of countries perfectly situated in the middle that would allow for ease of smuggling (“ease”. Yeah, right. Because getting coke to travel a couple thousand miles into the richest country of the world is supposed to be easy. LAWLZ).
There were many Columbian traffickers who had quite a bit of experience smuggling things like cigarettes and marijuana. Pablo certainly wasn’t the first, but was one of many. Add that experience to the geographical location of Columbia (right between the countries that processed coke and the richest country in the world that bought it) and you had a recipe for “success”. Or disaster. All based on your perspective.
Location matters just as much in legitimate businesses, too. Are you opening a restaurant or retail store? Best be sure that there’s a lot of foot traffic around your establishment to bring in customers. Are you going to found a tech start-up? You’d be best served to make sure you’re somewhere with an awesome university, to hire hungry, young software engineers. Are you trying to sell snow shovels? Then I’d get the hell out of Florida and move up to Buffalo, NY.
I don’t know what this says about his upbringing or his moral fiber, but Pablo Escobar started his life of crime at a rather young age. It’s not like the guy woke up one day, saw a job ad in the Classifieds for “Drug King Pin” and was like, “Fuck it, Ima do that.” But Pablo Escobar was selling fake lottery tickets, stealing cars, and smuggling cigarettes LONG before he was smuggling tons of cocaine into the United States.
This is a pretty common theme when you see really successful people make oodles of money when they’re really young. Mark Zuckerberg had a private tutor to help him with coding. He’d also code video games with characters that his friends drew/designed. Justin Timberlake was on the Micky Mouse Club when he was 12. Warren Buffet had a pretty sizable pinball machine business when he was in his pre-teen years.
It’s better to start as early as possible if you want to have a successful business. It lets you get a lot of the mistakes and learning out of the way.
Keep It In The Family
You’ll see that when there are billions of dollars on the line, trust is hard to come by. It’s not like you can hand a couple million in cash to some rando and say, “Deliver this to my contact in Miami. Oh, but don’t take any. And please don’t go to the cops. Or my competitors. And please don’t talk about it to anyone. Oh, and it’s drug money.” And what’s one of the best ways to make sure that everyone’s interests are aligned? Make sure the person to your left and right are related to you.
Pablo Escobar did just that. Two of his closest advisors were Gustavo Gaviria (his cousin) and Roberto Escobar (his brother). And this makes sense! It’s easier to align interests if your all related. In general, what benefits your brother or your cousin will benefit you, and there’s a huge advantage to keeping all that money in the same family. Not to mention it’s a LOT harder to justify doing harm to a family member than some random advisor or business associate. You know, “blood is thicker than water” and all that crap…
Escobar was not the only one to do this. Trump is famous for receiving that “small” $1 million loan from his father. The Koch, Walton, Mars, and S.C. Johnson families are some of the richest in the world! So if you’re looking to start a business and need cash/associates, start with the family first, then branch out!
People WILL hate you if they ain’t you
I put this lesson last because it’s was almost certainly the downfall of Pablo Escobar. Guys: public opinion matters. You can’t bomb the fuck out of your country and expect people to support you. I know Escobar was pissed and doing what he thought was necessary to prevent extradition, and frankly, it worked. But instilling terror in a country is not going to win you long-term support!
Towards the beginning of his “career”, Pablo was known as a sort of Robin Hood for the people of Medellin. It’s amazing how much people will like you when you literally hand out money for free. However, when you’re one of the richest people in the world living in one of the poorer countries of the world, people will start to resent you. Add to that a campaign of terrorism and kill thousands of people, and yeah, “la gente” is not going to be too impressed. And when you’re trying to hide out in los barrios, and that people that used to help hide you are now passing info along to the cops, it’s really only a matter of time till you get screwed.
Business Lessons from Pablo Escobar… The Wrap Up
Am I writing close to 2,000 words to convince you to light up a country with bombs and terror just to make a buck? Not exactly. Are there maybe some things that he did that are worth exploring in a VERY general sense? Sure. Here are the key takeaways from Pablo Escobar’s (intense) life:
- #noexcuses – Pablo Escobar came from a pretty shit background and became the 7th richest man in the world. What’s your excuse?
- Everything is Negotiable – The man got to build his own prison. You can get a car salesmen to come down another $200.
- Location Matters – In real estate and in business, location can be the difference between success and failure.
- Start Young – The more experiences you have that align with your business, the higher chance you have of succeeding.
- Keep It In The Family – Blood is thicker than water, y’all.
- People Will Hate You If They Ain’t You – You have to make sure that you’re staying in the good graces of the public, especially if your business takes off. All it takes is one small blunder and you might see revenues drop faster than a freshman’s brain cell count after a night of… socializing.
Do you agree with that Pablo Escobar did some things in his “professional” life that might be worth studying? Have I completely offended some of my reader base by saying that we should emulate anything about a man who killed thousands of people? Is this the third question?! Comment below!
Sigue tratando de descifrar el codigo, mis amigos,