Business Secrets From <i>Scarface</i>

On his rise to the top, Tony Montana demonstrates the kind of business savvy and chutzpah we can all learn from. Here are four tips from Tony's playbook.
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I recently watched Scarface, the seminal 1982 movie featuring Al Pacino as Tony Montana, a high-flying Miami drug dealer. The movie highlights some clear business "don'ts" (avoid ticking off Latin American drug lords and don't become a coke addict, for starters). But on his rise to the top, Tony Montana demonstrates the kind of business savvy and chutzpah we can all learn from. Here are four tips from Tony's playbook.

1. Ask for a bigger assignment. Tony was the lowest man on the totem pole -- a dishwasher, struggling to earn a living after coming to the U.S. during the Mariel boatlift. Mid-level cartel operative Omar Suarez approached Tony and expected him to jump at the offer of $500 to unload a drug-laden boat one evening. Instead, Tony scoffed and demanded more -- leading a surprised Suarez to give him a breakthrough assignment handling a bigger deal. We live in a culture where too many employees only do enough to get by and shirk responsibility. Ask for more and your boss will take note.

2. Execute well at key moments. Tony's first deal was supposed to be a clean exchange -- but it turned out to be a double-cross. Tony stayed collected, even when his companion got chainsawed (it's not a movie for the faint of heart), and took out the rogue operatives. When he returned with both the drugs and the money, boss man Frank Lopez was impressed. What are the key initiatives your company values? How can you get involved and contribute? (Fortunately, your version of "executing well" is probably more metaphorical than Tony's.)

3. Think big. Down in Bolivia -- where they'd been sent by Frank to craft a distribution deal -- Omar Suarez was a tepid negotiator, insisting he needed to return to Miami and check in. But Tony, sensing a major opportunity, seized authority and unilaterally agreed to the multimillion-dollar deal. Given the profit potential, he knew it was time to act boldly. What are the calculated risks that can pay off for your career? Is it time to pursue a new degree, or launch a new initiative?

4. Know when to part ways. Sadly, Frank Lopez was unimpressed by Tony's dealmaking and considered it too risky. Sometimes, if you're a big thinker, you're going to outgrow your boss' vision. That's often when it's time to part ways. Striking out on his own, Tony partnered with his Bolivian colleague and quickly became a major player on the Miami scene, reeling in trashbags full of money every week. How can you enlist of the support of your boss and team members -- or, if necessary, seize your own opportunity?

Ultimately, Tony Montana is a tragic figure. But he made a cinematic mark with his innovative empire-building. What can we learn from other business figures in the movies? What are your favorites?

Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist who teaches at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of Reinventing You and Stand Out, and you can receive her free Stand Out Self-Assessment Workbook.

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