Yes We Have No Bananas – Compliance Lessons from the Banana King


In an article in the June 2 edition of the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) author Rich Cohen previewed his upcoming book, “The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King”, which is about Samuel Zemurray, but known to friends and foes alike as “Sam the Banana Man”. His business genius was to see opportunity where others only saw waste and capitalize upon it. He went from a non-English speaking immigrant to the owner of the United Fruit Company. In between, as noted by Cohen, Zemuarray was a fruit “hauler and a cowboy, a farmer, a trader, a political battler, a revolutionary, a philanthropist and a CEO.” Not too shabby a résumé.

During his lifetime, Sam the Banana Man competed against and eventually took control of the behemoth United Fruit Corporation. In writing about all of this, Cohen distilled Sam the Banana Man’s business acumen into five lessons which I found as insightful for the compliance practitioner today as they were when Sam the Banana Man employed them in the 1920’s and 1930’s. They were as follows.

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