Pablo Escobar – A True Entrepreneur
Recently I have watched the Netflix series Narcos on the life of the famous drug lord Pablo Escobar. As I watched it, it struck me that he was actually an amazing business man who built a staggeringly successful empire. Admittedly the empire was built on a foundation of illegal drug trafficking, violence and corruption, it was however an amazing achievement.
How about these for some business fundamentals:
Shipments of Cocaine Per day – 15 tonnes per day
Return on Investment – 20,000% – yes that is correct!
US Cocaine Shipment Market Share – 80%
Annual Revenue – $30,000,000,000
Cash lost per year to rats $2,000,000,000 – Escobar had so much cash, he buried it and lost a reported $2 billion per year because rats ate it.
Escobar started started his criminal empire as a teenager stealing gravestones and grinding them down for resale. He progressed to petty street crimes, selling contraband and fake lottery tickets and stealing cars.
Escobar soon realised that selling contraband provided a small payoff compared to the risk and “fell” into drug trafficking. He travelled to Peru and purchased Cocaine paste which was then processed into cocaine and shipped to the United States for distribution.
Like many entrepreneurs, Escobar was able to capitalise on a growing market. His entry into the cocaine business happened to parallel the explosion in the use of Cocaine as a recreational drug in the United States.
By 1975 Escobar had further developed his cocaine operation and was even flying planes himself to assist. He later bought 15 planes including a LearJet and 6 helicopters to support the scale and demands of his operation.
In 1976 Escobar and several of his men were arrested with 18 kilograms of white paste after returning from Ecuador. He fought the case through the courts and eventually simply bribed the two arresting officers. This started his pattern of dealing with authorities by either bribing them or killing them. This was famously described as “plata o plomo” meaning silver or lead, money or bullets.
By the height of his power Escobar was generating over $60 million in profit per day and had an estimated net worth of more than $30 billion (although this was very difficult to get an accurate assessment on this). It was also estimated that the Medellin cartel was shipping up to 80 tons of cocaine from Colombia to the US each month.
After many years of absolute power, including a very short term as an elected politician, Escobar had killed enough people, trafficked enough cocaine and made enough money to attract serious attention from the US government. US officials dedicated resources and fought Escobar like a war.
This war ended in 1992 when Escobar was found by his enemies – the US and Colombian government, opposition cartels and people who had been persecuted by Escobar. He died in a gun battle after sustaining multiple gun wounds.
Escobar leaves a lasting legacy and forever changed the business of drug trafficking. He has been described as lacking intelligence and organisation, however he was extremely focussed and very competitive.
Watching the story left me seriously wondering what he could have achieved if he chose a legitimate pursuit with less violence?