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Help! My boss is El Chapo

Joaquín Guzmán Loera, better known as El Chapo, climbed out of his damaged Cessna 206 on a makeshift gravel road near the Mexican town of Durango and felt happy to be alive.

One thing he already knew for sure. Miguel Angel Martínez, the inexperienced young pilot he had recruited to transport cocaine from Colombia, did not work.

Two months earlier, a plane operated by Mr Martínez in co-piloting had run out of gas and broken the landing gear on approach. This time he had put up so incapable that the propeller hit the ground.

The boss gave Mr Martínez a spontaneous performance assessment. "Mr. Guzmán told me that I'm a really bad pilot and that he does not want me to continue working for him as a pilot," he said The bigger question was, of course, what El Chapo was up to next.

If Young professionals in most companies commit a series of serious mistakes, they know what they can expect from their superiors. I need you to clean up your desk. If your boss is the alleged kingpin of the Sinaloa cartel, is the protocol a bit different? If your employees have seen enough to testify against you, firing is not an option.

Mr. Guzmán's ongoing American narcotrafficking process in New York, where Mr. Martínez has this story in one Testimony told, has revealed the veil of a sweeping operation that overpowers the US with up to 4,000 tons of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine emmt. But witnesses have also offered insight into something even more difficult: how a real drug lord manages people.

  Help! My boss is El Chapo


Photo Illustration by Sean McCabe; ID CARD: Archivo / ZUMA Press

In Mr. Guzmán's allegedly criminal enterprise, talent and job performance were less important than unconditional loyalty. In fact, copious brain power could be dangerous. In a company where executives never retire, many ambitious lieutenants become restless and in some cases try to overthrow the boss.

When Mr. Martínez botched this landing in 1987, El Chapo had only two realistic options, none of which was ideal. He could forgive the pilot and assign him another job, or he could have him shot.

Mr. Guzmán's armed bodyguard preferred the latter option. "He wanted to kill me," Mr. Martínez said in court.

After quietly persuading his follower to put his weapon in a holster, El Chapo pulled Mr. Martínez aside. He was done with flying, but he would not die. In fact, he received a promotion.

Mr. Guzmán wanted to open an office in Mexico City to use as a bridgehead bribes for its growing network of corrupt police and government officials, and he asked Mr. Martínez to lead him.

In 1987, witnesses said, Mr. Guzmán had only a small number of employees, including family members. He was a practical boss who was still helping load and unload his cocaine shipments. He must have thought that it would have spared Mr. Martínez to earn his lifelong loyalty. So it was less beneficial to beat him than trying to train him.

Mr. Guzmán, twice escaped from prison and evasive of an assassination that has not been guilty of all 17 charges of his prosecutor, including the plot to murder, has become a folk hero to some. Federal marshals blamed viewers for having waved or even thumped a thumb at spectators.

His defense team claims he is a small player in the drug world and that the US law enforcement agencies have inflated his reputation to make him appear bigger trophy than he really is.

  El Chapo had a complex network of hitters, guards, pilots, and engineers. A federal prosecutor in Chicago points to an organizational chart in 2015.

El Chapo operated a complex network of hitters, guards, pilots, and engineers. A prosecutor from Chicago in 2015 refers to an organizational chart.


Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press
Witnesses say that El Chapo, as a cartel leader, attended endless discussions and dealt with issues that were familiar to every CEO: sales, finance, pricing, sales, marketing, quality control, and risk management. At his height, he is said to employ dozens of people, watchmen, pilots, engineers, accountants and secretaries; own aircraft, ships, speedboats, submarines, tankers and railcars, as well as dozens of warehouses.

But the special needs of the cartel, such as starting businesses, washing money, and investing millions in bribes and military weapons, led to a high degree of complexity. To maximize their profits and stay out of prison, rival bosses had no choice but to work together.

The leadership of a criminal enterprise of this magnitude made El Chapo aggressively paranoid. Witnesses say he bought Scrambler to avoid discovery and used listening devices to spy on rivals and monitor his own people. He showed no mercy to those who had crossed him.

At the same time, he engaged his workers with gifts, treated them with reverence, and often tolerated their stupid mistakes. In a recorded conversation with a dealer who had asked for a heroin discount, Mr. Guzmán said, "We're here to serve you, you know that." In another recording, he quietly asked a lieutenant to stop beating police. "They are the ones who help," he said.

The office in Mexico City that Mr. Martínez had opened for the boss did not have a sign saying "Sinaloa Cartel", of course. "We pretended to be lawyers," he said. El Chapo, who at that time could go unnoticed on the street, appeared almost daily.

The boss made himself popular with his boring ex-pilot by taking him on sentimental visits to his hometown of La Tuna and refusing to let him carry a gun because he feared he might get hurt. When El Chapo asked to be the godfather of his newborn son, Mr. Martínez did not hesitate. "I was happy," he said.

  Members of the Sinaloa cartel after being arrested in Peru in 2014. For El Chapo employees, talent was less important than loyalty.

Members of the Sinaloa cartel after being arrested in Peru in 2014. For El Chapo employees: Talent was less important than loyalty.



Building affection with a barely competent employee does not often connect us with sociopaths. But the list of star witnesses in the process of El Chapo suggests that it may have been a prudent move.

The most damning testimonies against him do not include the occasional employee error. it comes from the creative betrayal of his best and brightest. Pedro Flores, a prolific drug dealer in Chicago whom Mr. Guzmán had personally courted, contacted the law enforcement agency and began talking to protect his family from crime. Cristian Rodríguez, a Colombian IT fan who built the cartel's secure communications network, gave the encryption keys to the FBI.

In 1993, Mr. Martínez declared that he was in charge of all the companies of Mr. Guzmán. He stored, packaged and shipped drugs to the US and got the money and exchanged it. The pilot, who had originally signed a flight for $ 25,000, had become El Tololoche – a wealthy narcotics executive who, according to defense lawyers, has an amazing cocaine habit.

When Mr. Martínez was arrested and taken to a Mexican jail, the patronage of the Compadres ended abruptly. He claimed he survived a stab, a grenade attack and two more attacks on his life, ordered by Mr. Guzmán. He was eventually extradited to the US, where he testified and testified to be included in the witness protection program.

The leadership lesson here is a bleak one. Should legitimate CEOs be loyal to talented individuals, treating employees and family members alike – and obsessively obsessing about them? I do not think so. The main reason why this model worked for El Chapo is that even an idiot can sell drugs to Americans.

In the end, perhaps this process will contribute to the management canon, is a new entry in the dubious list of terms companies have described their approach to human resources.

GE once practiced rank and jerk. Other companies live according to the motto "Slow down, shoot fast". If the Sinaloa cartel had chosen a slogan for management, it might have been "coddling or killing".


Please contact Sam Walker at sam.walker@wsj.com

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