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Boardwalk Empire’s Nucky Thompson: Gangster or Businessman?

BEWARE: Spoiler alert.

In case you missed it, Nucky Thompson is back as Atlantic City’s mob boss in HBO’s third season of ‘Boardwalk Empire.’ It’s been a year and a half since Nucky shot and killed our beloved Jimmy Darmody at point blank, the man who once told Nucky “You can’t be half a gangster.”  If we can take one thing away from the new season, it’s that Nucky is now “full-gangster.”

No longer is Nucky just a name in the criminal underworld, but the man in charge of it all.  When the likes of Arnold Rothstein, “Lucky” Luciano, Al Capone and the rest of the east coast mob bosses take orders from you, I’d say you’re full gangster.

Which got me thinking.

How did Nucky become the man in charge of all the liquor east of the Mississipi?  And then it hit me. He’s a really really good businessman. Sure, he’s a total criminal, but he’s running an organization. Despite the political corruption, bootlegging, and casual homicide, Nucky has one of the most profitable businesses of his era–liquor –and he runs it very efficiently.

In fact, he even adheres to some of the Rocket Lawyer  7 ways to bulletproof your business; which helps you set up your small business the right way.

One big caveat: I’m not endorsing criminal activity in any way—this is fiction and you really shouldn’t take cues from gangsters on how to run your business. Still,  I thought it would be fun to take a look at our seven ways to bulletproof your business and determine whether or not a bullet might be headed Nucky’s way. Proverbially or otherwise.

1. Build on the right foundation

One of the most important steps for any small business is to set up a corporate structure that provides liability protection and tax advantages. Nucky doesn’t operate under an S Corp, C Corp, or LLC but he sure knows how to keep his personal assets separate from those of his business. After all, you can’t be a mob boss without having a Ph.D. in money laundering. However, when it comes to liability, when Nucky goes down his family is going with him. When you’re a criminal, it’s hard to fully separate his personal assets with those of his “business.”

My take: If Nucky were around today, I’m sure he’d have a couple front organizations (although certainly not in his name).

2. Comply with the law

Nucky’s a gangster! When your job description includes racketeering, political corruption, bootlegging, gambling, prostitution, and murder, as part of its “best practices” that’s not a good sign.

My take: He’s got a long way to go in this department. Although it’s working out for Nucky right now, it’s super-high risk. We encourage small businesses to take steps to limit both business and personal liabilities because, as Nucky’s life shows, if anything goes wrong it’s going to hurt everyone in his life.

3. Keep good counsel

Every entrepreneur should have great lawyer by his or her side, and Nucky sure does: I’m not sure about you, but if the U.S. Attorney General were my counsel, I’d feel pretty protected.

My take: Money can’t buy you happiness but it can buy you a mistrial.

4. Protect what’s yours

Every business owner has intellectual property to protect. Nucky might not have any patents, trademarks, or copyrights filed under his name  and he certainly doesn’t require his employees to sign an NDA or non compete clauses, but he most definitely knows how to protect what’s his.
In season three, Nucky doesn’t hesitate to put a bullet in the head of the thief who tried to steal booze from one of his stash houses.

My take: Although we’re not endorsing his methods, he’s definitely taking steps to  protect what’s his.

5. Record everything in writing

From business contracts to invoices, keeping the right paper-trail is crucial for business owners. And even though Nucky’s little black book almost put him behind bars, he always kept track of who owed him what. After all, you can’t run your business if you don’t get paid, right?

My take: I certainly don’t want to be in Nucky’s pocket.

6. Maintain enough insurance

When you’re involved in bootlegging, gambling and prostitution you can’t really take out a policy to insure your assets. If Al Capone and his gang decide to raid one of Nucky’s stash houses, he’s out of luck. Nucky can’t file a claim for the loss of 200 cases of illegal whiskey, now can he?

My take: Putting everything at risk is just part of being a mobster. Even if Nucky could get company insurance, think of the rates or even the deductibles he’d have to pay. Only so many fingers can be chopped off before the worker’s compensation pay gets too high.

7. Be a smart employer

Part of being a smart employer is hiring the right people. In Nucky’s case, he hasn’t done the best job screening his applicants. I mean, when your number one employee (Jimmy Darmody) turns on you and tries to have you killed, I’d say you need to do a better job. Maybe he should hire a recruiter.

My take: He’s made some bad calls in the past, but Nucky’s newest hire, Owen, seems pretty loyal (strictly business of course).

So sure, Nucky Thompson is a gangster, but he’s also a businessman (of sorts). His methods might be violent and his product might be outlawed, but if liquor wasn’t illegal, Nucky Thompson might be starring in ‘The Apprentice’ instead of Donald Trump. He’s definitely got better hair.

Make sure your business is Bulletproof. Check out the 7 Ways.

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