When I was 10 years old, all of my friends wanted to play for the New York Yankees. Not me. I wanted to be a Hells Angel.
At the age of 19, I found myself involved in one of the most notorious outlaw motorcycles gangs in New York City. In retrospect, it was simultaneously one of the best and worst decisions of my life. While being involved in the gang, I didn’t realize I was learning valuable lessons that I’d be able to apply years later in my businesses. It’s safe to say that if I didn’t go though that phase in my life, I wouldn’t have the business instinct that I have today.
Lets face it, when there is a group of people involved in any function, there is always a level of business tasks involved. Your bowling league is a business, your place of worship is a business, your family is a business -- and yes, an outlaw motorcycle gang is a business. Every entity needs some money to survive, so a means to raise capital and use it wisely is necessary. Money is part of the success and longevity of any organization. Using it wisely will keep its staff, board of directors, members or…your spouse happy.
At the time, I thought the functions of the gang were unique to gangs, but I realized that many of the principles and philosophies are applicable to any business. I got out of the gang and lived to tell about it, and below are five lessons that I learned. Five of the primary principles in a gang that apply to any good business are branding, recruiting, Attitude, growth and strategy. I like to use the acronym BRAGS.
First off, for any gang, like any business, the name and the logo are paramount. The name needs to communicate the mission clearly. Sons of Anarchy, as an example, was the gang’s name used for the hit TV show, no longer on the air, of the same name. It says who they were. A company’s logo, or “the colors” for a gang, is a type of branding. The colors mean so much and are so important to a gang member, they will go to extreme measures to protect it.
The second most important step in building a strong business is hiring the best staff. For a motorcycle gang to survive, it has to recruit people with the “right stuff.” Being accepted into a gang is a very rigorous process. Hiring your staff should be a thorough process, too. Being a gang member or an employee of a company comes with responsibility -- and there is no room for weak links.
People often ask me what makes a business successful. What I have found is that success is directly related to attitude. If a business owner has either a good or bad attitude toward anything in his or her life, it will show up their business.
However, attitude in an outlaw motorcycle gang is entirely different. A gang member has an image to up hold every time he rides his bike. To be taken seriously, he has to give up haircuts and laundry detergent. When he pulls up on that Harley, preceded by the loud thump, thump, thump of the V-twin engine, people anticipate a nefarious attitude. A biker has to replace his smile with a sneer. Of course in business, it’s the exact opposite.
As the old tenet proclaims, if the business is not growing -- it’s dying. A motorcycle club is always recruiting new members to grow the club. To get really big and have market dominance, gangs merge and sometimes acquire other gangs. Sometimes the takeovers go smoothly and all parties agree, but sometimes, there is a hostile takeover. Of course in a corporation, people are laid off -- not laid out!
A great business plan or strategy is important in growing any business. There should be a mission statement in place and bylaws to govern the behavior of staff members. Believe it or not, many outlaw motorcycle gangs have written bylaws that the members must adhere to.
For instance, most outlaw gangs require members to ride only Harley-Davidson motorcycles. In the gang I was involved with, one of the chief rules was not to partake in any drugs. The thought was, if you get into a scuffle, how can you rely on your brother if he is strung out on a substance. In addition, gangs even have a sort of dress code that really amounts to a uniform: steel-toed boots (cowboy boots are ok), wallet with a silver chain dangling, leather jacket with innumerable zippers, dark sunglasses and a tee shirt with a "provocative proverb" such as "Real Men Wear Black."
Over time, I learned that the uniform wasn't very practical during the summer months. But it was the uniform, nevertheless -- it had to be worn. If you want to send a message of professionalism to your customers, make sure your staff dresses the part.
It probably does not occur to business owners that they can run their business by many of the principals of a motorcycle gang. I’m not suggesting that you should go out and buy your staff boots, dark sunglasses and a leather jacket, but imagine if you were to use the BRAGS principle to build a brand so strong that your staff would be willing to have the company’s logo tattooed into their skin!