The Business of Crime

The Business of Crime

This is part one in a series on business practices of transnational organized crime and drug trafficking organizations.

In order to better understand the business practices of transnational organized crime, it’s important to review several aspects of a successful legitimate business model that may translate over into the criminal underworld.

A winning legitimate business model, according to Casadesus-Mansanell and Ricart, consists of a set of managerial choices with regard to policies (how its run), assets (use of tangible resources such as cell phones) and governance (assignment of decision-making responsibilities) of the organization and the consequences of those choices.  A good business model creates a prosperous cycle that, over time, results in competitive advantage.

Consider the following attributes of successful business models and high performing companies during analysis of a criminal business:

  • Products and services are clearly differentiated from competitors.  This means that logos, colors, symbols, taglines separate the brand and distinguish its products from other market providers.  Gangs may use tagging to mark territory and drug traffickers may use a label or symbol to give production credit.
  • Replication of a product or service in a new geographic location.   Drug traffickers and counterfeiters frequently expand into new markets or offer a new product in an existing market.
  • The business model is aligned with company goals.  All the choices made should enable the company to reach its desired goal; for a drug trafficker this would mean products are sold and money is earned.
  • The business model is self-reinforcing.  Internal decisions made by leaders and executives must complement one another.  In the case of Rafael Cardenas Vela, accounting responsibilities were required at various levels of the drug trafficking organization to ensure accurate financial management; had Cardenas Vela demanded each distribution hub communicate with him in addition to the accountant, the model would have been in direct contradiction of itself.
  • The model must be robust and be able to withstand threats from imitators, delay, employee complacency and substitution.  This may be the most highly refined attribute of the transnational organized crime business model; they withstand pressure from law enforcement, outside competitors offering the same service, stay in business despite delivery and supply delays and employee complacency and can still function if a leader is removed or product is substituted based on availability.

Part two will examine the role supply chain analysis can play in a criminal business enterprise.  This type of analysis is a critical piece of a business plan, particularly for those enterprises that require products to be extracted or manufactured.   Evaluation of the supply chain is also a key component of a security assessment and risk management plan for those businesses that choose to operate in high risk regions or need to evade detection by law enforcement.

Casadesus-Masanell, Ramon and Joan E. Ricart.  How to Design a Winning Business Model, Harvard Business Review, January–February 2011.

Goodman, Marc.  What Business Can Learn From Organized Crime, Harvard Business Review, November 2011.



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