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How They Do Things on the West Side of Baltimore

Avon Barksdale on Managing Risk, Part One

Jon Gnarr, the mayor of Rekjavik, Iceland, uses the HBO series The Wire as a political filter. If you haven’t seen all five seasons, he doesn’t want to work with you. Crazy as it sounds, he’s on to something.

The series has plenty to say about how cities are governed. Many a new mayor – or manager – would do well to establish such a comprehensive common point of reference for potential coalition partners. The Wire has plenty to teach us.

Wisdom from unlikely sources

Avon Barksdale, one of the series’ criminal masterminds, knows a thing or two about managing risk. When the series starts, he has managed not only to survive and to thrive in a high risk business, but also to elude the notice of the police so successfully that they don’t even know what he looks like.

The business is hugely profitable and it is run like a business. Subordinates are delegated tasks and rewarded or punished according to their performance. Indeed, it is so business-like that Barksdale’s number two is actually studying business at a local college.

Internal audit by another name

The business is run tightly and they are very aware of the temptations that accompany their product and the large amounts of cash it generates. Every level of management keeps a close eye on the money as it is collected and when it is exposed to risks such as being transported.

A string of “loss events” trigger a review, for example, to check for information security leaks within the organization. The steps Barksdale and his lieutenants take to find and control the source of the loss are criminal, but well thought out.

Simple, but effective

Ask yourself how many classes you’ve sat through and how many you would care to repeat. I’m watching The Wire for the second time and may actually be enjoying it more this time. The drugs trade, or “Game”, has plenty it can teach those of us on the straight and narrow. There’s much to be said for the value of a good teacher.

1 comment to How They Do Things on the West Side of Baltimore

  • When I was 19 and on student government (Treasurer of course) my success in that position was predicated on my treating the $90k budget as my own. I didn’t act like some bureaucrat with a budget to burn but made wise business decisions as if it was my own money I was spending. Although the President and VP had equal signing authority on monies spent, I carried the cheque book all the time because I only trusted myself. The buck stopped here, so to speak.

    I suppose from your Wire situation, here’s an example of a “small” business owner that is making wise business decisions because it’s his money. In large businesses, managers don’t care unless they have skin the game.

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