Hot off the press: ‘Kingpin: Legal Lessons from the Underworld’

Amanda Feilding describes the horrific impact of the illegal drug trade as “spreading, like a cancer, through society.” Indeed, one of the foremost reasons that Amanda and the Beckley Foundation strive to bring about the full legal regulation of all drugs is to deprive the kingpins of the criminal underworld of their main source of income, thereby reducing the scope and impact of their harms to surrounding communities.

So it’s refreshing to see this idea flipped on its head by Sarah Barhtolomeusz in her new book, Kingpin: Legal Lessons from the Underworld (October 2016) which delves into the operational practices of the leaders of the illegal drugs trade. Just as the Beckley Foundation maintains a global focus in our endeavours to improve drug policy and redress the damages wrought by the illegal drugs trade, so Bartholomeusz takes a global approach to delivering lessons from its criminal masterminds in her new book.


“Despite the immoral, destructive and violent culture of the illicit drug trade, drug Kingpins are – first and foremost- entrepreneurs and risk managers. As pioneers of the underworld, they face unique challenges arising form the illegal nature of their trade. Their unpredictable and inherently risky world provides a wealth of diverse business challenges rarely encountered by mainstream business leaders. Thus they can provide us with lessons that we can learn from no one else.”

Analysing the heydays and corporate praxes of Frank Lucas (Harlem’s American gangster), Khun Sa (the Golden Triangle’s Opium King), Dawood Ibrahim (India’s most dangerous terrorist), Pablo Escobar (of Colombia’s Medellin Cartel), Bartholomeusz dishes up some business protocols well worth adopting, such as taking inspiration from Mexico’s Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman Loeras, whose “greatest contribution to the evolving tradecraft of drug traffiking” was an underground passageway from Mexico to the United States. Guzman also hired an architect to facilitate his prison break. And, once his tunnel to the United States was discovered, he “devised new smuggling tactics, including shipping drugs in cans of chilli peppers, the refrigeration units of tractor-traiers, custom-made cavities in the bodies of cars, and truckloads of fish.” The lessons to be learned? Implement an Innovation Process within your business, and supplement it with a Training and Development Policy (methodologies explained, pp. 106-109) in order to create an environment where employees can see themselves as innovators, and can actively contribute to the refining and improvement of existing systems.

We’re proud to have contributed a table, “Examples of Risk Management Strategies Used by Dealers” (pp. 16 -17), which first appeared in our report, “Understanding Drug Markets and how to Influence Them” (Laura Wilson and Alex Stevens, 2008).

Kingpin: Legal Lessons from the Underworld is available on Amazon, (Kindle, £8.45).
ISBN: 978-0-995-35727-3

Words: Rosalind Stone