I was watching Francis Ford Coppola’s classic adaptation of Mario Puzzo’s The Godfather the other day, and was again reminded of one of the lines that should be quoted more often than it is, especially for business owners. Early in the film, Tom Hagen goes to see the film producer Woltz to ask him to give Johnny Fontaine a part in his upcoming film. Woltz is holding a grudge against Fontaine, and doesn’t respond well to Hagen’s request. When he gives Hagen his final answer, Tom Hagen requests that his car take him directly to the airport. “Mr. Corleone is a man who insists on receiving bad news immediately.Mr. Corleone is a man who insists on receiving bad news immediately,” he explains. The scene occurs just before the famous horse head scene: astute aficionados have noted the bowl of oranges on the table during their dinner together at Woltz’s home.
“The Godfather is the I-Ching. The Godfather is the sum of all wisdom.” — Joe Fox (Tom Hanks’ character in You’ve Got Mail).
I’m sure you’ve noticed that the phrase “nothing personal — just business” has entered the business lexicon over the years since 1972 when the movie adaptation of Mario Puzo’s 1962 novel The Godfather. Funny thing is, the movie gives you the wrong impression. I’ve read the novel, and Mario Puzo explains that the phrase is not a sentiment with which Don Corleone would agree. In fact in the novel, only Don Vito Corleone (and later, Don Michael Corleone) seem to properly understand the intersection between what is business and what is personal. The movie places the quote on Michael’s lips, but only if you’d read the book would you understand Micheal’s words to be merely intended to placate his brother Sonny and Tom Hagen, who are separating the two in the discussion about their response to the attempted murder of their father. If you only saw the movie, you’d think this was the philosophy espoused by the Don. It isn’t.