Better Call Saul Proves Once Again That Bad People Can Make Good Managers
Tara's not a crackpot. She just thinks Better Call Saul is making a strong case that just because you're a 'villain' by some standards doesn't mean you can't also be an inspiring leader!
As we close "Sabrosito," this week's episode of Better Call Saul, it's on a victory for Kim and Jimmy: though we're not sure precisely how, we gather that she's trapped Chuck in an admission about the incriminating tape around which Jimmy's whole storyline has revolved this season, and that it will stand them in good stead when they go before the Bar Association in next week's episode. But even as much as we all want to see Chuck thwarted in his attempt to end Jimmy's legal career -- if not outright ruined and left to die alone, as Jimmy predicted last week that he will -- Jimmy and Kim's triumph is less dramatic or compelling than the management seminar the rest of the episode represents.
I am not a crackpot. I just think we all have much to learn about running a harmonious workplace from Gustavo Fring.
The seriousness with which Gus takes the success of his front business goes back to the moment we first met him this season -- when he was digging through fast food trash to help a guest recover his lost watch. Before the next act-out, we see Gus knows quite well there's more to Jimmy than a faulty watch band, but still: one leaves their interaction in no doubt that Gus would be juts as solicitous about the personal property of a patron who had no association with the clever operator Gus is interested in co-opting in his battle against his biggest cartel rival. Gus wants good word of mouth to spread through the community about every aspect of the Los Pollos Hermanos experience, from its cheerful and courteous staff to its liberal salsa policy.
In "Sabrosito," we get proof that Gus's approach to cartel business practices is not typical -- and is, therefore, all the more impressive and admirable. Our cold open finds Hector checking in with Don Eladio, proudly telling him about the ice cream factory he's acquired in Michoacan, the shop in Albuquerque he's named in the Don's honour, and the bobblehead he's had made in his image.
Hector is also proud of the meth proceeds he's brought...
...until Gus's man Bolsa shows up to cuck him.
But does Hector take the opportunity to reach out to his colleague and seek his advice on how he, too, might become a "distribution genius"? No: first he snaps at his own henchman, Ximenez, who did nothing wrong. Then he grabs a couple of his other underlings, heads over to Los Pollos Hermanos, and starts intimidating the customers and staff until Gus himself has to abandon the day's PR outreach -- feeding the squad at a local fire house -- to address the situation.
The difference is unmistakable: whereas Hector's response to a professional setback is to lash out in all directions -- not just by abusing his own direct reports, but also trying to bend to his will the man who has easily bested him professionally -- Gus remains calm and reassuring with his very loyal staff. Even the one who's clearly delusional. (What the fuck kind of help do you think you're going to be right now, Lyle?) And when the threat has been neutralized, what does my man do? He cleans up the restaurant, by himself.
And the next day, Gus appears before the store opens to do right by his employees in every respect: telling them all they behaved "impeccably"; offering counselling to any of them who might still feel traumatized by the previous day's events; announcing that everyone present will get twenty-four hours' overtime: "I am sure, in one way or another, each of you brought this incident home with you." Did Gus's answer to Lyle's query about what the intruders wanted line up exactly with the truth? I mean, no? But would the staff be better off if they knew what was really going on? Of course not. Anyway, Gus's version of events serves the purposes of preserving his employees' trust and loyalty.
Okay, dumb honky Lyle's trust and loyalty. Some of the Latinx employees seem like they might suspect Gus's fairy tale.
We also see Gus's superior management instincts later that evening when he goes to see Mike and ask about the payment Mike refused for sabotaging Hector's latest shipment. ("What I did, I didn't do for you," Mike tells him.) Recognizing in Mike a craftsman whose sense of honour even in their dishonourable side hustles is a match for his own, Gus expresses his interest in working with Mike in the future, but doesn't extort or even pressure Mike into accepting.
Gus also shows respect for Mike's stature by keeping the same distance between them as when they met on the highway in the last episode. Managing a Lyle and attempting to recruit a Mike require very different approaches. It's proof of Gus's talents that he shows this kind of facility at both.
But Gus isn't the only great leader using Better Call Saul to teach a clinic in business management: Jimmy's no slouch himself. His superlative people skills are what have gotten him this far in the legal profession, which may be why he recognized Francesca's innate talent as soon as she came in for her interview two episodes ago -- and the proof that he was right about her is that she remained loyal to him through his name change and into another series. Meanwhile, the show's ostensibly "good" characters are terrible bosses: Howard, screwing over Jimmy (on Chuck's orders, but still); and Chuck himself, firing poor Ernesto to maintain the fiction that Chuck didn't completely manipulate him into telling Kim about the tape of Jimmy's confession. Just because you go on and on about being a sworn officer of the court or some shit doesn't mean you can't be a monster to work for, and just because you're engaged in a criminal enterprise doesn't mean you can't be the kind of boss your employees always remember as their all-time best. I am not a crackpot.