The beeping in Louis Ferrante’s borrowed Lincoln SUV won’t stop, so he finally snaps in his seat belt.
“Don’t tell anyone,” he says. “No self-respecting gangster ever wears his seat belt.”
Ferrante, who served 8 1/2 years in prison for crimes he committed as part of New York’s Gambino family, believes the Mafia offers even more useful lessons than not wearing seat belts. His new book, “Mob Rules: What the Mafia Can Teach the Legitimate Businessman,” offers these primers in 88 succinct chapters. They include: “Don’t end up in the trunk of a car: Avoiding office politics” and “It’s good to go to a funeral as long as it’s not yours: The power of networking.”
In a nod to the management genre, Ferrante, 42, employs the case study method to go over decisions made by, among others, “Fat George” DiBello, “Fat Pete” Chiodo and “Fat Tony” Salerno. “Mob Rules,” which draws heavily on history, begins with “In ancient Sparta” and goes on to recast complex events with insights such as “There was a wacko Roman emperor named Caligula, who whacked everyone.”
Nicholas Pileggi, who wrote the books that inspired the mob classics “Casino” and “GoodFellas” (and co-wrote the screenplays with Martin Scorsese), sees the utility of wiseguy wisdom.
“I’m surprised at how some equity fund guys don’t read the room,” he says. “They could learn from Louis Ferrante. It doesn’t hurt them. They wouldn’t shoot anybody.”
Ferrante, who stands just 5 feet 5 inches and has the darty energy of a Joe Pesci character, is certainly a qualified teacher. He was running a Queens chop shop before he was old enough to drive and eventually had his own crew.
Now he’s merely the latest mobbed-up entrepreneur trying to cash in on America’s endless infatuation with La Cosa Nostra. After finishing a jail stint in 2003, he quickly discovered that legitimate business wasn’t his thing.
“I can’t sit somewhere every day. I still have the street in me. I need to be out,” Ferrante says. “I found what I do good, which is write.”
He subsequently scored a $250,000 advance from HarperCollins to compose his 2008 memoir, “Unlocked: A Journey from Prison to Proust,” about how he read his first book in jail – and then read nearly the entire Western canon. In addition to promoting “Mob Rules,” Ferrante is currently working on an Edward Gibbon-style history of the Mafia and sniffing around for other media spin-offs.
“I’m surprised I don’t have a show,” he says.
Regardless of whether he gets one, Ferrante is poised to profit from an iteration of the mob industrial complex that’s far different from the one popularized by Pileggi and Scorsese in “GoodFellas.” In recent decades the Mafia’s business model has stagnated: The big industries, such as garbage collection, have been replaced by smaller rackets such as phony car insurance claims. Along the way the business lost its clout.
And with the loss of clout came the decline of standards. While other mobsters came to support him during his trial, Ferrante remembers being embarrassed by their wives. “They’d say, ‘I told my wife to dress up,’ ” Ferrante recalls, “but she’d look like a five-dollar whore, wearing a tank top. This is the best you could do? Read a magazine!”
The good news for Ferrante is that the mob’s tackiness might actually be its best business plan – especially when it comes to marketing books with 88 chapters. In the Jersey Shore era, the public’s somewhat incomprehensible appetite for trashy culture has given rise to a new Mafia economy. In addition to bronzer, velour jogging suits and pinkie rings, it includes former Colombo family honcho Michael Franzese, the author of “I’ll Make You an Offer You Can’t Refuse: Insider Business Tips From a Former Mob Boss.” These players are part of a larger market that thrives on the shortage of Corleone-esque glamour.
Ferrante hopes to illustrate that being a mobster isn’t all that different from being an office drone. In “Mob Rules,” he offers simple suggestions for building trust within an organization, delivering on promises, establishing corporate rules, and never, ever putting information in e-mail.
This article appeared on page E – 4 of the San Francisco Chronicle