If you think that prejudice against Italian-Americans is something from 30 years ago think again. Stereotypes about and discrimination against Italians is alive and well in America, especially as you get further away from the East Coast. This is a story of a true event from six months ago in Bloomington Indiana.
I had a business client which had asked me to look for ways to improve their profits. An analysis of their their financial statements showed that their shipping costs were way out of control.
I brought in a shipping expert named Tony Romano from New Jersey to make a presentation to the company. Tony has a successful company that uses a sophisticated computer system to assign freight to the most cost efficient trucking firms and routes. His initial analysis showed he could save the client over $3 million per year.
Tony flew from New Jersey to Indiana to to give his detailed presentation on exactly how much money he could save for the client.
But there was a problem. The people in Indiana didn’t like the way he looked.
The first issue was Tony’s suit. He wanted to make a good impression so he had worn a dark suit. Tony is a real computer geek and I had never before seen him wear anything other than jeans and a flannel shirt. But for this occasion he had on a very nicely tailored black suit and a gold tie.
There was also a problem with how he had gotten to Blooming from the airport in Indianapolis. Tony had never been there before, so he was afraid of renting a car and then getting lost. He was going to take a cab from the airport, but that turned out to be very expensive, since they charge by the mile. Tony was able to negotiate a flat rate with a limo driver at the airport. Not only was it less than half the cost of the cab, it also was a better ride. The limo was a beautiful shiny black Cadillac.
Tony arrived at the client’s offices and gave a fantastic presentation, He gave a computerized demonstration of exactly how he could save the company $3 million in shipping When it was over, I expected the client to ask how soon they could get started. Instead, they gave a very cool “thank you” to Tony and said they would get back to him sometime in the future.
I stayed behind to meet with the client and get their impressions. I was shocked at what they said.
The head of the company said “There is no way we are getting into bed with the New Jersey Mafia.”
I thought at first that he was joking, but he was not. After he made his comments, the rest of the people in the room piled on and gave their comments. They were all convinced that Tony was a mobster. To them the evidence was clear.As they stated it, Tony Romano was definitely in organized crime because:
- He is from New Jersey.
- He is Italian-American.
- He is familiar with the trucking business.
- He wears a dark suit.
- He arrived in a black limo.
Nothing I said could convince the people in Indiana that Tony was not a mobster. Apparently they had made up their mind about him as soon as he stepped out of the limo in his black suit. They had not listened to a single word of his presentation. They even refused to keep a copy of his presentation.
So the Indiana company continues to spend $3 million more per year on freight than it has to, simply because management has seen too many movies.
So if you happen to be Italian-American from the great state of New Jersey, you may want to be careful about making any Soprano jokes. To a large number of people in the country, you are not just another American who likes watching mob shows. You are the mobster.