“Every organization needs somebody standin’ out in front. Call it a figurehead, a leader, a headman, a kingpin, a president, whatever. It doesn’t matter much to me who does it.”
Charles “Lucky” Luciano was one of the most notorious gangsters of the 20th century and transformed the structure of the mob as we know it today. He put the “organized” in “organized crime” with his progressive philosophies, an acute ability to sense opportunity, and masterful execution of his ideas (and those who stood in his way).
Sometimes, it’s not what you know. It’s who you know.
Luciano struggled early on in school, so he decided to take his talents elsewhere and quickly established himself as an enterprising young individual.While other neighborhood gangs were committing petty crime, Luciano’s crew offered protection to neighborhood kids for ten cents per week. By the time he was a teenager, Luciano had already had already affiliated himself with the up-and-comers of the criminal underworld. How’s that for networking?
Like many unscrupulous entrepreneurs of his era, Luciano profited tremendously from the ratification of the 18th Amendment and the Prohibition Era that followed. He and a childhood friend, (Jewish gangster) Meyer Lansky, started a bootlegging operation that soon dominated the illegal liquor trade along the East Coast. While competitors were using small boats to run liquor, Luciano and his crew docked their ships in New York Harbor. It pays to know people in high places.
How much did it pay, you ask? By the mid 1920s, Luciano’s budding enterprise was grossing over $12,000,000 per year, although he netted only 1/3 of that after bribing politicians and law enforcement. Still, that equals roughly over $50,000,000 in today’s dollars.
Embrace the way business landscapes change.
Luciano’s criminal aptitude was soon identified by Giuseppe “Joe the Boss” Masseria and was put to use as Lucky quickly ascended the ranks within the Masseria organization. Masseria was the boss you hope you never have. Terrible manners, limited management skills, and short-sighted thinking contributed to a mob war that lasted three years and claimed over 60 mobsters’ lives. “Joe the Boss” upheld Old World Mafia principles and refused to work with outsiders who weren’t Italian.
Luciano recognized that this myopic philosophy and the constant turf wars it created limited the productivity of his efforts and ultimately stood in the way of business. To Lucky, it didn’t matter if you were Italian, Jewish, or Irish– as long as you did your job. American organized crime was ready to become a modern, efficient conglomerate. While the traditionalist crime families experienced stagnant growth and profit, Luciano knew that the opportunities on the horizon were in fact attainable– but resisting change would not bring them to fruition.
Capitalizing on opportunities requires creativity and forward-thinking. Be ready to pull the trigger at any moment.
It wasn’t long before Luciano saw his opportunity to catapult organized crime into the modern world. The war that was being waged between Masseria and his rival, Salvatore Maranzano, was becoming quickly lopsided in Maranzano’s favor. After cutting a deal with Maranzano, Luciano invited Masseria to lunch at an Italian restaurant in Coney Island. He didn’t disclose that lead would be on the menu, courtesy of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and three other gunmen.
Of course, it didn’t take long for his new boss to realize that Lucky’s progressive outlook and enterprising nature was dangerous to the Old World traditions. Maranzano became power-hungry, egotistic, and greedy. A contract was put on Luciano, who was already a step ahead of the “boss of bosses”. Five Jewish gangsters dressed as law enforcement arrived at Maranzano’s Manhattan office and… let’s just say he was permanently downsized.
An enterprise cannot be efficient and profitable without clear structure and corporate policies.
Luciano’s vision was to form a national crime syndicate with a board of directors, a corporate structure, and a methodical integration of legitimate businesses. The Commission, as it was named, was designed to ensure efficiency of the network by resolving conflicts, managing disputes, and by establishing a rule of consensus among the different operations. Representatives of the Five Families of New York City, the Philadelphia, Buffalo, and Los Angeles crime families, and Al Capone’s Chicago Outfit served as the governing body. Ultimately, this structure transformed American organized crime into an efficient enterprise that was focused on the bottom line. Luciano’s management style also modernized the strategy of the national crime syndicate. Some traditional positions that created tension were abolished, yet values like Omertà were kept in place to keep operations running smoothly.
Lucky Luciano’s innovative vision and keen sense for opportunity helped pave the way for modern organized crime. Like a well-oiled machine, The Commission oversaw an unprecedented and synchronized expansion into illegal and legitimate enterprises alike. Luciano’s practical business methodologies can apply directly to today’s corporate strategies and management. Dismissing them as just the afterthoughts of a uneducated thug could kill your company’s prospects faster than the bullets leaving Bugsy Siegel’s machine gun.