Networking Lessons For Your Business From Lucky Luciano

As a rising entrepreneur, one of the most important activities you can engage in is networking. The value of your network is directly correlated to the quality and depth of the relationships that you maintain. When it comes to Organized Crime, Lucky Luciano practically wrote the book on networking lessons that can be re-purposed for entrepreneurs. Luciano used a lot of the same principles that that are suggested by modern experts such as Keith Farrazzi. Let’s go over some context, and jump into the networking lessons.

Lucky Who?

Crime boss Lucky Luciano, a bootlegger during prohibition in New York

Luciano emigrated to New York in 1907 from Sicily at the age of 9. By the end of 1925, less than 20 years later, Luciano was earning over $12 million a year, the majority coming from bootlegging alcohol during the prohibition (for a more in-depth post on bootlegging during prohibition read our Capone post). At the time, Italian crime families in New York would only do business with each other, refusing to do work with anyone outside of their heritage. In fact, Sicilians didn’t even like to do business with Italians from other regions. In direct opposition to his forbearers, Luciano implemented the infamous, and wildly successful Commission, the governing body of organized crime in the United States. This organization gave all Italian, Jewish and Irish crime families a vote on issues ranging from turf wars to reparations. How did Luciano unite so many divisive groups? With damn good networking.


Networking Lessons

These lessons come straight from the great book on networking by Keith Ferrazzi, Never Eat Alone. We have tied each lesson to a Luciano story that illustrates how he used the lesson.

Lucky Luciano Coffee

Lesson 1: Start with a mentor

No process in history has done more to facilitate the exchange of information, skills, wisdom, and contacts than mentoring. Young men and women learned their trade by studying as apprentices under their respective craftsmen. Young artists developed their individual style only after years working under elder studying the lives of those who know more than we do, we expand our horizons

Luciano would never have become a “great” without his mentor Arnold “the Brain” Rothstein. Rothstein was a clever gambler, fixing the World Series and greatly influencing crime at large on the East Coast. He was an unlikely mentor for a young Italian like Luciano, because of his Jewish roots. Keep in mind that this was a time where Italian-Americans were notorious for sticking to their own national group and refusing to work with people from other backgrounds. Rothstein saw something in Luciano, and Lucky was wise enough to accept the support and wisdom of Rothstein as a mentor. Rothstein helped Luciano bridge the gap from “street smart” to “high society smart”. He exposed Luciano to elite gatherings that he would never have had access to if he stuck with his past street gang activity.

He also taught Luciano how to work his way into people’s good graces: after Luciano was pinched for drug charges in 1923, his social status dropped significantly. On Rothstein’s expert advice, Luciano brought 200 guests (politicians, businessmen and other notable figures) to a star-studded boxing match on his dime. The guests were impressed to see Luciano dressed to the nines in an expensive suit (selected by Rothstein), and all was forgotten. Without Rothstein, Luciano would never have been able to rise out of his neighborhood gang, and see how powerful figures in New York did business.

The value of a mentor cannot be over emphasized. As an entrepreneur you need to find someone that has been there before you. It’s highly effective to learn from the tribal knowledge that others have accumulated over time, and avoid excessive  heartache and experimentation (although you will still have a lot of this). In business, it’s often who you know, not what you know.

Lesson 2: Build Before You Need

The great myth of “networking” is that you start reaching out to others only when you need something like a job. In reality, people who have the largest circle of contacts, mentors, and friends know that you must reach out to others long before you need anything at all.

Luciano learned early on that helping others outside of the Italian crime families would work to his benefit. He spent a lot of his time building relationships across faction lines.  He was very close to Rothstein, and started building connections with the Jewish community as a young teen. He made money protecting Jewish Americans, which other Italian gangsters would refuse to do. He put in time doing favors for others, to get their trust. At the same time that he was out developing his relationships with a diverse cast of crime syndicates, he was building a network of young Italians called The Young Turks, a group of spirited Italian-Americans who were influenced by his ideas to do business with other cultures.

Many of The Young Turks became leaders of Cosa Nostra after Luciano’s eventual redevelopment of the organization, including Joe Bonnano, Tommy Lucchese, and Carlo Gambino. Luciano was building a following, and alliances, before he needed anything at all. In fact, he was constantly building through common goals. He knew that he could wield more power by creating alliances with different racial groups. When the Commission was eventually implemented, Luciano’s influence extended far beyond other Italian bosses, as he kept his connections to all other groups.

As an entrepreneur, you have to put in the work before you need the benefit. Networks take time to build, and need to be nurtured. Networks are like a muscle. The more work you put in at the gym, the stronger you become. In the same way, you need to put work into your network to ensure that you cultivate strong relationships built on trust and mutual benefit. Spend time on your network.


Lesson 3: Expand your network

The most efficient way to enlarge and tap the full potential of your circle of friends is, quite simply, to connect your circle with someone else’s.

In the 30’s there was a powerful rivalry Italian crime families; Masseria and Maranzano. Luciano betrayed Masseria, who was his boss, by having him killed. As a result, Luciano inherited his rackets and worked for Marazano. Luciano finally had the power and influence he had been wanting all along. There was one catch: Maranzano quickly assessed Luciano as a threat. Maranzano viewed his regionalism as a source of pride and fraternity, an homage to the crime syndicates he had run in Italy, but this would be his downfall.

Luciano’s vast network revealed to him that Maranzano was planning his demise. The problem: Maranzano was the leader and very well connected; any plot to kill him within the Italian families would surely be discovered. The solution: Luciano had been cultivating and developing a network outside of the crime Italian crime families for years. Time to circle back to his mentor Rothstein.  He had 4 Jewish hitmen sent over, and no one knew their faces. They disarmed the body guards and dispatched of Maranzano. With that, Luciano became the most powerful crime boss in the United States.

As an entrepreneur you should always be looking to expand your network. Collaboration across industry, culture and job role is key to rounding out a truly valuable network. Think about what you have to offer to others and try to connect your circle of friends with someone else’s circle.


Bringing it all together

In order to be successful as an entrepreneur you need to network like Luciano(not with the violence, but you know with the strategy). Hopefully you found these networking lessons to be useful and applicable to your business and life. Here are your action items:

  • Build your network before you need it
  • Expand your network by connecting your network to other networks
  • Find a Mentor and absorb their advice

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The Business of Crime was created by a bunch of crime-obsessed startup junkies. We don’t condone the bad guys, but we do think we can learn something from them. What criminal mastermind’s strategies would you like to hear about next?

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