The Atavist is our favorite source for original longform journalism. This month they feature “Coronado High”, an epic (and true!) tale of California drug smugglers during an era of free love and Volkswagon microbuses.

The writer, Joshuah Bearman, unspools an incredible (and worth saying again: true!) story about the criminals who made up a smuggling ring known as The Coronado Company. While reading, we couldn’t help but notice how nimbly this gang of rogues calculated their ascent—with special credit to the company’s “C.E.O.”,  a former high school Spanish teacher named Lou Villar. The more we read, the more Lou seemed like an unlikely encyclopedia of management lessons.

We extracted a few to share.


Style matters
After a few successful smuggling jaunts, Lou is quick to refine his image: he cuts his hair, acquires a Ferrari, develops an interest in fine wines, plays tennis at private clubs. He understands the importance of image—that in order to play the part, a man has to look the part.

Precision is everything
A good manager never loses sight of the big picture—or, indeed, the small picture. When importing thousands of pounds of marijuana, Lou’s deputy sets up an assembly line of workers to weigh, bag, and label the drugs—and Lou personally inspects the goods to ensure that the job is well done.

Maintain an air of mystery
Lou is careful to keep his personal history shrouded in obscurity. To those who pry, he simply replies, “I’m in oil, and if you ask any more questions, I’ll ask you to leave.” Case closed.


Recognize talent—and promote it
As the operation expands, Lou is careful to make strong hires. One of these is a local kid named Don, who is recruited for grunt work. After Don distinguishes himself as a talented mechanic, however, he is swiftly brought up through the ranks—and promoted to chief engineer.

“Paranoid” is just another word for “detail-oriented”
Under pressure from the DEA, Lou arranges a secret meeting with his lawyer in a San Francisco hotel room. To make sure his attorney is not being followed, Lou watches through binoculars from the hotel’s eighth floor—and leads his lawyer through a back entrance just to be safe.

Want more? Of course you do. Read “Coronado High” here for the next month- on us!

Photos courtesy of Gary Kidd and Lou Villar

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