University of Northern Iowa



3 Lessons from Ozark

Posted on Tuesday, May 5th, 2020

“A family is like a small business”, Marty Byrde.  

Marty makes this statement way back in the second episode of the very first season.  It gives you some insight into his persona, and while obviously fictional, Marty goes on to show us some very true points about being successful in business.  You can argue all day if they have helped Marty be successful – though (spoiler alert) he does continue to keep his family alive.

I wanted to point out just 3 of those lessons today – partly so I have material for a few more of these.  

1. Choose your customers with care

If you recall, Marty initially didn’t want anything to do with the Navarro drug cartel’s Camino Del Rio.  He saw the illegal laundering work they were doing and wanted nothing to do with it.  Had Marty stuck there, we wouldn’t have had 3 seasons of a pretty sweet show.  So lucky us I guess, and we can watch Marty learn the hard way on this one.  

I see often where businesses spend an inordinate amount of time servicing a small handful of their clients – who are often small, needy, whiners who are never happy with your price or product/service.  My guess is many of them aren’t profitable but they dangle carrots your way that make you feel like someday they will become whales.  While it’s incredibly hard to just fire them as clients – especially right now – try to control the time you put into them.  

2. The law of large numbers

"Listen," Marty says. "As individuals, people are completely unpredictable. Okay? One person making one bet... I couldn't possibly tell you what they're going to do. But the law of large numbers tells me that a million people making a million bets? That is completely predictable. Completely ordered.” 

I don’t want to get too deep into the analytics pool on this one, so just trust me that Marty is right on the money here.  The law of large numbers is hearing “No” 90 times knowing that there are 10
“Yes’s” in there if you just stick with it.  You’ve got to have patience, thick skin, and a whole lot of self-motivation to get there, but success is found in large numbers.

Too often we see someone who had success and shrug that off as luck, chance, or other non-replicable traits.  We see their one “Yes” and assume that was all it took (or blindly hope that it is) – when the whole picture would show us so many “No’s” they dealt with to get there.  

3.  Find good people

Realizing you can’t do it all on your own is crucial to success in any endeavor.  As Marty expands his money-laundering empire, he realizes he can’t scale and do it alone.  Enter Ruth Langmore, stage left.  She doesn’t know a thing about money-laundering but she knows loyalty, communication, and did I mention loyalty?  Align yourself with the right folks, give them a mission they can believe in, spend time developing them, provide them with feedback (and not just the younger ones), and reap the rewards.  Show them you care in the smallest of ways and they will beat a path to your door to please you.