Walter White: father, teacher, small business owner
It’s coming up to a year since I signed up to Netflix, intending to terminate my subscription after the free trial had finished. Walter White, however, had other ideas for me. Vince Gilligan’s series, Breaking Bad, had not concluded and so I was stuck with Netflix until it had. Twelve months on, I’m still paying!
So what can we learn from the antihero Walter White about business strategy? Over five seasons, White built up his small meth business from a mobile home, to an underground hub of activity, eventually going mobile. White declared ‘I’m in the empire business’, but was this really as effective as his original small business? We watched Walt go from teacher, to meth cook, to car wash owner, then culminating as head of his so-called empire.
Even the greatest empires, however, must crumble. Walt’s ambition to get more money and power meant that he lost control of his company. Once the integrity and credibility of the company had been compromised (yes, even druglords can have integrity), Walt’s fall from grace was inevitable.
The success of Walt’s business was branding and efficiency. Well-planned cook sessions ensured that Walt and Jesse were efficient producers of the elusive blue meth. Even the smallest entrepreneurs can be successful by making their products unique to the market and easily identifiable when viewed alongside the goods of similar companies. Stand out from competitors by giving yourself an edge. Walt’s brand was not just the colour and purity of his product, it was his brand-name: Heisenberg; easily identifiable and synonymous with his product. Much like Walt delegated in his business (he was the cook, Jesse was the dealer) so you can optimise your profit margin by being the best at what you do.
Walt’s legitimate car wash business allowed for the shady meth business to flourish. Without advocating money-laundering, one can learn much from both businesses. Though it worked well to begin with, the growing meth empire was too much for the car wash to cover, as Walt’s wife Skyler struggled to launder the scale of the money that Walt was earning, it wasn’t long before both businesses folded. So what’s more important than an impossible-to-spend pile of money taking up valuable storage space, is integrity for both yourself and the business. Branching out too quickly could make your small business collapse like a house of cards.
Know your business, know what your customer needs and don’t let ambition overwhelm you.