Top 10 Lessons “Breaking Bad” & Walter White Taught Us About Building A Business

Breaking Bad may be a wrap at this point, but that’s not to say the hype has died down.

The list of awards garnered by the show is staggering, including 10 Emmys, 5 Satellite Awards and 2 Golden Globes.

With a spinoff in the works and the final episode of the series set to hit Netflix on February 24th, there are still countless reasons to enjoy watching the show. What might not instantly come to mind, however, is the multitude of lessons that can be gained by studying the show’s main character — enter “Walter White’s School of Business.”

If you’ve been living under a rock and aren’t familiar with the show, have a look at the trailor (it’s still worth a watch, even if you know the show well):

It’s no secret that Walter White made a fair amount of business mistakes throughout the course of Breaking Bad, but it’s also difficult to argue with the fact that he was the show’s most successful entrepreneur in many ways, surpassing even Gustavo Fring in many ways.

Here are 10 things to learn from how he went about building his empire. 

1. You Should Never “Go at it Alone”

Walter White was a highly intelligent guy, and he knew right from the start that he couldn’t go into business alone. He had the science behind him, but he lacked any street smarts whatsoever early on in the show, which is why he sought-out Jesse Pinkman. Pinkman’s loyalty may have waned towards the end of the show, but he was a loyal partner for the majority, as well as a driving force behind the business. This just serves as more proof that it doesn’t matter what industry you’re working in – having the right people on your side can make all the difference in the world.

2. Life is Short. Sometimes, All it Takes is a Career Change

After learning of his diagnosis, Walter White lost all interest in keeping up with his career as a high school chemistry teacher. If he had stuck with the same thing he’d done for years, after all, how would he have ever been able to pay for his treatments and save his family from going broke? Clearly, his moving into the meth business isn’t something that anyone would ever recommend, but it serves as an example of why one should never be afraid of switching careers. Even if stability is important, there’s nothing worse than becoming stagnant.

3. Manage Your Own Expectations

There were countless moments in Walter White’s career as a veritable kingpin where he could have simply stepped away and accomplished his original goal of providing for his family. One of the biggest mistakes he made as a businessman was not learning when to say “no” to a new offer. It’s a common issue that many people in business run into, and – as in White’s case – it can lead to one’s downfall. Biting off more than you can chew is never a good idea, even if it seems somewhat manageable.

4. Have Confidence in What You’re Doing

Think back to that scene early on in the series where Walter White first acquired his “Heisbenberg” moniker while intimidating local druglord Tuco. Was there any other way he could’ve escaped that situation alive? It might be a stretch to think of things this way, but intimidation is no doubt a factor in many business scenarios. It should never be taken to such an extent, of course, although this scene (and many others from the show) is a great reminder that confidence is key in business, regardless of what you do for a living.

5. Develop the Best Product or Service Money can Buy

Walter White’s blue meth quickly became a signpost for quality among the dealers and addicts that made up the show’s cast of characters, and it differentiated the product from everything else on the market. After a while, interest in other product waned entirely – all anyone wanted was the blue stuff. If you really want to truly “go for it” in business, you’ve got to develop the best products and services that people can get their hands on. Whether that means opening a restaurant with a penchant for using the highest quality ingredients or providing state-of-the-art cloud computing services, going the extra mile is the only way to build a strong consumer base.

6. Never Underestimate the Importance of Marketing

“You know it’s good, because it’s blue,” said Aaron Paul in a Saturday Night Live sketch cameo right before the show came to an end, and he’s got a point. People knew what they were getting when they saw blue meth on the streets, at least before copycat attempts began to pop up. It’s marketing 101 at its very best – creating a product so recognizable that you can be almost positive that you’re getting the best of the best. Even if what you’re selling is the best out there, it’s not going to get the recognition it deserves unless you put a great deal of emphasis on marketing.

7. Obstacles can Get in the Way at Any Time

One of the strongest points of Breaking Bad was the fact that twists and turns came at every corner, leaving the audience unable to ever truly predict what might happen next. It’s also an unfortunate side effect of running a business, as obstacles can very often get in the way, even when you feel as if everything is on the right track. It’s easy to get discouraged in such a scenario, but Walter White never let that happen to him, and nor should anyone who is looking to create a successful career for themselves.

8. A Little Luck Never Hurts

The fruits of Walter White’s labors certainly could never have come without all the hard work and risky moments that came along the way, but there’s an element of luck involved here that can’t be denied. What would have happened if he and Jesse were unable to get the RV started after being stuck in the middle of the dessert and on the verge of dying of thirst? It’s little things like this that can turn a bad situation into a triumph, especially in tense business scenarios. You can, of course, never bank on luck, but there’s no arguing with the fact that it often becomes a factor.

9. Be Careful of Who You Work With

There comes a point in any successful businessman’s career where outsourcing becomes nothing short of a necessity. This being said, Walter White learned the hard way just how important it is to be picky with who you work with. Tuco, Fring and Todd all turned out to be horrible people to do business with. While most people aren’t going to run into such a scenario in the professional world, it still stands as a good reason to be exceptionally careful about who you end up bringing into your business.

10. Take Care of Your Employees

Walt and Jesse’s relationship certainly had its rocky moments, especially as the show progressed. Take a close look at the series as a whole, however, and it’s clear just how much Walt cared for his younger business partner. Jesse escaped a number of near-death situations starting as early as the third season, and in many cases, it was Walt that pulled him up from the doldrums. Anyone who is successful in business knows just how important it is to keep their employees happy, safe and – in the case of Breaking Bad – alive.

Breaking Bad may have been created primarily for entertainment purposes, but the lessons inherent in the show are what will make it live on for many years to come.

Take them to heart, and you might just find yourself climbing the ladder more quickly in your own career.


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Written by

Tim Eisenhauer is a co-founder of Axero Solutions, a leading intranet software vendor. He's also a bestselling author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Mastering Employee Engagement. Tim’s been featured in Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur, CNBC, Today, and other leading publications.


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