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Pt 1 of 18. Ambition, leadership lessons from Organised Crime


For the good of society – [inlinetweet prefix=”@mgriffin_uk” tweeter=”@mgriffin_uk” suffix=”null”]18 leadership lessons from organised crime[/inlinetweet]


According to Interpol, the UN and WTO the organised crime industry is one of the world’s largest with quantifiable revenues of at least $3 Trillion per year and despite trillions of dollars worth of investment to counter act their growth the industry is growing faster than ever leaving a trail of devastation in its wake. In a world first we reveal how Syndicates use influence, resources, technology and vision to build global empires with revenues of over $250 Billion and translate it into a business language that philanthropists can use to build prosperous companies that can help repair some of the societal damage by creating new jobs, building engaged workforces and creating new, selfless collaborative cultures.

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Gaining in strength despite the odds

Over the past five years Governments around the world have spent over $2.5 Trillion trying to disrupt the organised crime syndicates and networks but today despite all their efforts the industry is one of the fastest growing on the planet. Running organisations of this size and complexity in such a “high risk industry” and against such committed adversaries requires attention to detail and a fanatical focus on execution. Our research identified 18 core categories that help serious organised crime groups maintain their competitive edge and improve their growth prospects.

To fast forward to a particular category click the link to it:

  1. Ambition
  2. Customer Service
  3. Bribery and Corruption
  4. Devolved decision making
  5. External Problem Resolution
  6. Internal Problem Resolution
  7. Local Touch
  8. The Lean Team
  9. Consistency
  10. Loyalty
  11. Perks
  12. Disruptive Innovation
  13. The Flight to Favourable Jurisdictions
  14. React to Real Time Events
  15. Process as the Enemy
  16. Spying on the Competition
  17. Emigres Clusters
  18. Trust, Faith and Openness


Bigger and more powerful than America’s elite

In the table below we compare some of the larger organised crime syndicates with some of the world’s largest organisations to show you the scale that they’re operating at. To put these figures into perspective during the 2008 recession European Government leaders believed that the Mafia was Europe’s largest capitalised private bank and that is no small feat.


Organisation          Employees          Annual Revenue          Net Income

Mafia                            300,000                  $248Bn*1                           $133Bn

Triads                           420,000                  $200Bn*3                                –

Apple                            73,000                     $171Bn                                $35Bn

GE                                 304,000                  $146Bn                                $17Bn

IBM                              410,000                   $99Bn                                  $16Bn

Yamaguchi                 55,000                      $79Bn*2                               $19Bn*4

Microsoft                     93,000                     $77Bn                                  $26Bn

Google                          47,500                      $59Bn                                 $13Bn

Yakuza                          452,000                   $50Bn



*1 Le mani della criminalità sulle imprese, Confesercenti, 2008

*2 Japanese National Police Federation, 2006

*3 Dirty Dealing, Peter Lilley, 2006

*4 FBI Sources, 2012


Diving in

As we begin delving deeper into the meanings and implications of each of the above categories it’s worth noting that many of them are cultural and structural rather than mechanical and this makes many of them much easier to implement within your organisation.


(1) Ambition

What this means to the Shadow Industry

Ambition within the Shadow Industry is legendary. To normal bystanders many of the news stories read like a script from the next Hollywood blockbuster. The battles for power, territory, resources, respect and control both between competing organisations and between individuals and member groups of the same organisation still all too often manifest themselves in meticulously planned assassinations and outright warfare that leave thousands dead but behind all of these battles there are individuals who are fed up with the Status Quo who have the ambition, desire and resources to push for changes.

These battles – or wars if you want to call them that are costly. Not only do they drain capital but they devour huge amounts of resource and while it’s arguable that there are no winners in these situations there are serious downstream implications for the organisation, employees and customers alike. The destruction of assets and the loss of expertise and revenues are the three most notable implications but other implications include organisational stagnation and the destruction of consistency; and with it predictability, brand value, trust, faith and supply chain integrity.

Crime bosses have always realized at some level that these wars do more damage than good, even when you win you don’t actually win and it takes years, sometimes decades for the organisation to regain its focus and momentum. Each syndicates sovereignty can be attacked from three directions – externally, internally and across time and tackling each requires a different approach.

Externally syndicates are, as we can see, subject to both conventional and extraordinary competitive pressures that manifest themselves in a myriad of ways. While it’s impossible to remove all of the pressures syndicates have routinely begun nominating Peacekeepers who have the responsibility of opening up and maintaining trustful dialogues with their counterparts within the other syndicates to prevent problems and flare ups from occurring in the first place and in the less likely event that trouble does erupt then they can leverage these valuable communication channels to resolve their differences faster and quieter with less impact on their organisations. This approach however has also bought with it new unexpected benefits and have been responsible for helping foster new inter syndicate partnerships that have then gone on to make the two organisations even stronger and more relevant.

Internally many of the larger syndicates suffer because of the institutionalized ambition that arises when Soldatos and Lieutenants alike become collectively or individually disgruntled with the status quo. Today many of Syndicates are using strategically positioned representatives to identifying the first signs of unrest and are finding new ways to re-energize and motivate their Soldatos and lieutenants without them having to resort to violence. Those who show promise are  encouraged to strike out and head up new ventures and initiatives and not only does this help the organisation remain peaceful but it also helps broaden the organisations scope of operations and drag more opportunities into the net. However, for those who don’t show promise there are only two options – renege and buck up or leave and when we say leave of course we don’t necessarily mean leave your car keys and laptop at the front desk on your way out…

Temporally every crime boss needs to step down eventually and every change increases the risk of a disorderly, sometimes bloody succession – it’s therefore no surprise that succession planning has been woven into the core organisational fabric of many Syndicates for centuries. Not only does succession planning ensure the smooth transition of power but syndicates use the process to give their Soldatos a democratic voice which helps unify the organisation and give them confidence in a shared, prosperous future.


What this means to Normalized Industries

Every individual has ambitions that are as distinctive as they are and while some people’s ambition in life is to sit on the sofa and watch day time TV for the rest of us we have a myriad of alternative options open to us. People’s ambitions can be divided into two categories – Professional and Social but when looked at together it’s more than likely that each individual’s ambitions have been crafted to help them achieve the lifestyle of his or her choice. Interestingly though there is often a polarized relationship between people’s professional and social ambitions. Professionally they aspire to attain goals that help them increase their salary and stature within their organisation but socially they want less stress and more free time to spend with their families and friends.

When all is said and done everyone has the same ambition – to create the optimal work life balance and while many of today’s organisations will claim that they try to help their employees achieve the right balance the stark reality is that far too many organisations still expect their employees to prioritise work to the detriment of their home life. Ironically our research has shown that it’s more likely to be the older more established organisations – the ones who you would have thought would have had the time to finely tune their employees work life balance practices, rather than their newer twenty first century counterparts, who are more likely to make unreasonable demands on their employees time so perhaps it’s no wonder that many of today’s best workplaces aren’t any older than twenty years young.

When people’s ambitions aren’t recognised, or supported by the organisation that they work for the downstream consequences can manifest themselves in a myriad of ways. The first, and most common is that their dissatisfaction with the organisation grows and they leave to work for a competitor, taking all of their valuable insights and expertise with them. Ironically this is probably the best outcome for both the organisation and the individual because if they don’t leave then what follows can be much more damaging – they can become Kingdom Builders or antagonistic towards their colleagues and the organisation and of course, in extreme cases, they can become saboteurs. Saboteur is a strong word but sabotage can happen in degrees and can remain undetected for years – employees can purposefully withhold important information that client teams need to win an important bid, they can spread rumors and drag down morale, they can work at a snail’s pace to reduce the agility of the organisation or, as we’ve seen in some cases, they can leak damaging confidential information to the competition. Ambitious, disgruntled employees have an arsenal of weapons that they can use to get their own back and the higher up in the organisation they are the more serious some of these issues can become, affecting M&A outcomes, impacting shareholder value and costing people their jobs, meanwhile, externally, ambitious activist shareholders can campaign to have the entire board replaced.



Ambition is a highly sought after trait but organisations need to be able to differentiate between, then appropriately manage, ambition that would result in positive outcomes and ambition that would result in negative ones. Managed correctly ambition can be the differentiator that separates your organisation from the pack but ignored it can tear your organisation apart.

The key takeaways are:

  • Use a central Employee Record to record and manage your employees ambitions
  • Assign Ambassadors to identify and mentor ambitious employees
  • Create flexible, personalised employee development programs
  • Assign Peacekeepers to manage external flare ups
  • Invest in succession planning


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