From Gambino family mobster to business consultant: This is the unusual career path followed by Louis Ferrante, a 44-year-old native of Queens, NY, who after spending 8 years in jail for Mafia-related crimes has become a successful writer and is now doling out advice to legitimate start-ups.
Ferrante has just published a book called “Mob Rules – what the Mafia can teach the legitimate businessman." Building trust, leadership skills and avoiding office politics (who knew the mob is aware of something as mundane as office politics?) are all part of Ferrante’s expertise. Connie Loizos, a contributor to PEHub, a Thomson Reuters publication, interviewed Ferrante.
Here are a few classic pieces of advice I have gleaned from her interview, which can be applied to hedge fund managers, venture capitalists, anyone starting up a business, and probably any top Wall Street executive who is looking to maximize their “people and business skills”.
1. Build trust with a business partner.
"You have to spend time with people outside of work. You can pull a heist with someone or work on Wall Street with them every day, but to really get more insight into a guy, grab dinner with him; go on vacation together. You have to get to know someone on a more intimate level. I think about the guys who became rats, who became cooperating informants, and there was always something I saw in them but didn’t believe or explore at the time — something where I should have said, ‘Whoa, that’s a little weird.’ "
2. Trust your instincts.
"You can also ask his neighbors, if you really want to know somebody. (Laughs.)"
3. Avoid office politics.
"I learned that through a father figure, Artie the Hairdo, an old-timer who was really from the old school. When Sammy (Gravano) was first appointed the underboss of the (Gambino) family, I asked Artie what he thought. He was eating dinner, and he just paused, gave me a stare and kept eating. He obviously had distaste for Sammy, and he was basically communicating to me not to get too deeply involved with him. But Artie himself pretty much stayed away from Sammy, and unlike a lot of others who took sides and got killed, he died of natural causes."
4. Use mnemonics to impress your business colleagues by remembering hundreds of names.
"We all did it. It was this untaught, unwritten thing you did. It’s how you remembered 500 people: Fat Franky and Skinny Franky and Franky Flippers, who goes diving once in a while with his wife. You never forget a name that way.
When I was in the Mob, I could tell you how much 50 people owed me and on what day they owed it. I had to remember it all because I couldn’t write it down in case I got pinched. I will tell you that the more you rely on your mind, the more your mind rises to the occasion."
5. Know when someone is wasting your time.
"It’s so easy. You know if someone has a real interest in what you’re talking about. You just sense it. If I call a guy and I ask, ‘Did I catch you at a bad time?’ and he says, ‘No, no, no, Louie, what’s going on?’ I know he’s interested. If I call him and he says, ‘Sorry, you caught me at a bad time,’ I don’t’ want to talk with that guy again. He’s done. He’s off my Rolodex. On the street, too, you get a sense of a guy in a heartbeat."6. Have an inside guy– i.e consider having a mole at a competing startup – although obviously this one is to be avoided if you’re a trader and are going to risk insider trading charges.
“It looks underhanded, but it’s not. Look, it’s a competitive world, and the best tips I had came from inside guys. It was, ‘I’m working at this place, and every Friday the payroll is so much money and nobody is watching it.’ Sometimes, people just wanted to do me a favor. Other guys, I’d go to and say, ‘I have an end (a bonus) for you.’
If you’re just willing to listen to people, you can glean a lot of information without having to pointedly ask: ‘Give me the dirt.’ Just go hang out with somebody and listen. Everyone is willing to talk if you’re friendly, especially if you’re in a similar business. They want to be your friend, and they’ll tell you stuff, and that inside information can be crucial, like: ‘This is the rock-bottom number our company will take.’
7. Don’t talk too much.
"In a company, whoever has to know should know, but only as much as they need to know. You can’t control who knows your information entirely. People just can’t keep their mouths shut. It's just human nature. But you can limit your vulnerability."
When John Gotti did the hit on Paul Castellano [head of the Gambino family before Gotti took over], he didn’t ask the families. He didn’t tell the hit men what they were doing until they were doing it, because all you need is one guy talking, and John’s dead by the end of the week. Instead, the night of the hit, he said to them, ‘Put on these Russian hats and these trench coats. We’re taking somebody out.'"
Melanie Rodier has worked as a print and broadcast journalist for over 10 years, covering business and finance, general news, and film trade news. Prior to joining Wall Street & Technology in April 2007, Melanie lived in Paris, where she worked for the International Herald ... View Full Bio