One of the most iconic films ever made, The Godfather, turns 50 this year. Directed by Hollywood heavyweight Francis Ford Coppola, and released in 1972, The Godfather is a bloody tale of five Italian-American families vying for power in 1940s New York.
Central to the story, the Corleone family is headed up by Marlon Brando’s Vito, known to all as “the Godfather”.
The film opens on the wedding day of Connie Corleone, Vito’s only daughter. Sicilian tradition determines that no man can refuse a friend a favour on his daughter’s wedding day – so while Connie prepares for her nuptials, Vito holds court with various guests, all of whom want a piece of his pie.
There are plenty of life lessons to be learned from Ford Coppola’s gruesome gangster epic, but when it comes to running your family business, you might want to pay even closer attention.
Mixing family and work can be a wonderful choice, but as your business grows, it is important to stay mindful of how to keep the peace when hard decisions need to be made.
So, here are three weighty lessons The Godfather can teach you about running your family business.
1. Get to know your competition closely
As a family-run business, it is likely your reputation means a lot to you – meaning you probably keep a close eye on your competitors.
Well, nobody knows more about this than Vito Corleone. If there’s one thing that’s made absolutely clear throughout The Godfather, it’s that knowing your competition is crucial.
Throughout the film, Vito and the rest of the Corleones constantly move to intimidate and outsmart their competitors, resulting in all-out mafia warfare.
However, it doesn’t have to work that way; in the real world, keeping your “enemies” close makes smart business sense – and there’s no need to involve severed animal heads of any kind!
Although your family’s relationship with competing businesses is hopefully less brutal than that of the Corleones, The Godfather’s ultimate lesson rings true. If you are competing in close quarters with other companies, it’s important to establish a connection with them.
Not only is this good etiquette, but it can also help you understand what makes their company work, and perhaps even enable you to collaborate in the future. Keeping an eye on the competition might help you to improve your own operations, and can allow you to home in on your target audience more specifically, too.
2. Be ready to alter your succession plans as you go along
One of the key questions posed throughout The Godfather is: who will take over from Vito once he retires or passes away? Those are some mighty shoes to fill – and the path to deciding a successor is not straightforward.
At first we assume that Sonny, Vito’s eldest, is the natural heir to the Corleone mafia empire. But as the film goes on, it turns out that – spoiler alert – Sonny’s days are numbered. In the end it is Michael, Vito’s moralistic son who has recently returned from military service, who steps up and fulfils the position of Godfather.
When it comes to choosing a successor for your family business, you may already have one of your children in mind. Perhaps this child has expressed interest in stepping into your shoes when the time comes. Or, they may simply possess the right temperament, work ethic, and knowledge to make the ideal CEO.
However, as life goes on, things change. It could be that the person you thought would replace you finds their own path, or doesn’t want the responsibility of running the business themselves.
Or, you may decide to sell the business and enjoy the wealth it brings, rather than continue the legacy you have built over the course of your career. There is no shame in deciding to quit while you’re ahead and reap the rewards – but if you do, it’s important to discuss this move with your children, who may be planning to inherit the business.
Whatever path you choose regarding your succession plans, the important thing to remember is that the only constant is change. Just like Vito’s plans for his family empire didn’t exactly go according to plan, you should be ready for the unexpected, and be willing to adjust accordingly.
3. Finding trustworthy allies can make or break the future of your business
Another question that hangs in the balance in The Godfather is: “who can I trust?”
Indeed, the film is littered with betrayals of the bloodiest kind: Carlo, Vito’s son-in-law, betrays the Corleones by abusing Connie, eventually having her brother Sonny killed for defending her. Meanwhile, Fredo conspires with family enemies to hurt Michael, his younger brother.
Within your own family business, trusting each other is paramount. Without total faith in each other, there is bound to be trouble afoot. In order to mix family and business, you need to communicate honestly and openly, rather than trying to one-up each other to get ahead.
But of course, nobody runs a business entirely within the family unit. There will always be others who can help or hinder your progress – so when involving external professionals who can help your business thrive, it’s vital you establish trust with them, too.
Unlike the shark-infested waters of mid-century New York, your network of trusted professionals is there to support you – and this includes your financial planner. We can help ensure your personal and business finances are on track to help you to achieve your goals, while assisting in planning for your family’s prosperous future, no matter the path you take next.
We will work with you and your family to establish a long-standing relationship, so you know no matter what comes around the corner, you have a seasoned professional on your side.
Get in touch
Working with an experienced financial planner who can help you meet your goals seems like an offer you can’t refuse. For guidance on running your family business successfully, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0161 8080200.
This blog is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.