Business lessons from Pablo Escobar – the most successful drug lord of all time


“Everyone has a price, the important thing is to find out what it is.”

Inspiration can strike from the strangest of places. Every entrepreneur knows how to bid their time, waiting to jump center-stage, morality on the hold. They are taught to be opportunists, in the most positive sense, because that’s what business all comes down to – timing and risk.

We have often spoken about the accomplishments of the glorified business tycoons of the world, with adjoining morals such as ‘pushing your luck where it counts’ and ‘being the best version of yourself’. But history doesn’t like glorifying the deeds of notorious individuals, who amassed an empire through ‘blood and fire’ because morality doesn’t allow us to encourage their visions.

But today, we place morality on a hold and speak about the superior and unmasked business vision of the greatest drug-lord in American Narcotics history – the one and only Pablo Escobar. In lieu of the fandom that Narcos has managed to generate and the recent release of the much awaited second-season that most of you have possibly already binge-watched through the weekend, here are a few valuable business lessons from Escobar, who managed to make the Forbes list as the ‘seventh richest man’ of his time with a net worth of about $25 billion.

Disclaimer: We do not encourage you to become the next ‘El Padrino’ and open up your very own drug cartel (you wouldn’t really be getting a ‘La Catedral’), but just to take away a bit from the journey of a highly successful business man who dealt his cards contradictorily right to create a billion dollar empire.

Master your product for value

Escobar began his array into the export business with contrabands such as liquor and tobacco which, although generating a fair profit percentage, weren’t as lucrative considering the vast breach of international law that he was making for the price. He was soon to realise the popularity of the narcotics trade and the unbelievable gains he could amass from indulging in it. Thus began his array into exporting the best brand of pure Columbian cocaine, which was eagerly lapped up by the American market – for a great price.

Knowing your market

Escobar started with smuggling cocaine within Columbia itself. In the 1970s, he was selling a gram of cocaine for $10. But for a production cost of $1,500 for a kilo, this wasn’t bringing much to his table. He thus shifted his focus across the sea to the United States, where the lifestyle of ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’ was still on the kicks. Here, he started selling the same gram of cocaine for $500 each on the beaches of Miami – the hotspot of partying and decadence back then. He thus put one foot into the potential of the American market, and this began the Columbian domination over the American drug world.

Tapping in your competition

The Columbian world of drug-dealing was rampant by the time Escobar descended into the trade. So he had stiff competition from a few established families who had been running drug-dynasties for many decades. Instead of running up against them, Escobar invited them to work alongside him, all the while proclaiming an organisation which he would head. These families soon realised the advantages of striking a deal of mutual benefits with this new drug lord and the ‘Medellin Cartel’ soon became one of the most prosperous drug networks in the world: A simple case of – ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer’.

Creating a brand image
Although news of Escobar’s illegal antics was rapidly spreading, including among the Columbian National Police, he still managed to create a revered brand image for himself. In his life-long quest to become the President of Columbia, he was very conscious of maintaining a good public image, involving himself in a number of social causes and throwing out money into the crowds, thus becoming a ‘Columbian Robin Hood’ of sorts. To this end, his brand was himself, which he also promoted for the sake of his business, saving it from the official forces while simultaneously exposing it to the international market
Taking the biggest risks

It is no secret that Escobar defiled the law and every form of justice to create his billion-dollar empire. In his words, “All empires are created of blood and fire.” Despite the consequences of the greatest risks he took, most of these were well-calculated. Even when he was finally caught and briefly imprisoned, he managed to negotiate his way into building his own dream-prison. He would fondly call this prison ‘La Catedral’ and lived there quite comfortably, all amenities provided for.

Relentless perseverance

As misplaced as Escobar’s passion and success may have been, no one can deny that it was his relentless perseverance that got him the returns of one of the most lucrative businesses of the times. He took a whimsical idea and executed it perfectly, skirting the law, police and every other obstacle that came his way to create his billion dollar enterprise. To this end, he really did ‘whatever it took’ – as we are often quick to preach – to make his dream come true.

Pablo Escobar may have had the biggest price on his head and he was eventually caught and shot by the Columbian National Police, but no one can deny the fact that the man knew how to run a successful business.

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