Pirate Communities: Business and Governance

Blackbeard knew branding: I think we get the message, yes?

[Editor's note: Sunday, September 19 is International Talk Like a Pirate Day...I'm just saying.]

Last week two dear friends sent me two different articles about pirate prominence. The first was from Gumbooteer, Stewart Burgess (his pen name is s||A), and it discusses the rise of pirates-as-kingmakers in Somalia. The second article was sent to me by Director of UBC Career Services, Howie Outerbridge – actually, he sent it to my boss and apologized for encouraging me; the article that Howie sent, after all, was entitled “What Business Executives Can Learn From Pirates.” It’s always nice when my senseless rants about pirate communities being benchmarks for progressive ideologies are affirmed by those smarter and better looking than myself.

To summarize, pirates are leaders in governance and business. Here’s why…

Business + Pirates = Awesome

According to, well, me, pirate ships have historically been bastions of democratic principles, where the

interests of many were, naturally, aligned with the overall goals of the organization. Fazil Mihlar’s recent article in up-and-coming “newspaper,” the Vancouver Sun acknowledges what Kurt Heinrich has known since we began chatting about pirates: “since the pirate crew (shareholders/ employees) collectively owned the ship, they had to keep the captain (CEO/management) in check.” Mihlar – with Peter Leeson’s popular Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates as his muse – smartly delves into health care (in addition to democracy, pirate ships were also the first place to see health care benefits and compensation practiced) and corporate branding.

“Awesome” + Community = Governance?

NEWS FLASH: Somalia is in turmoil! The American-backed central government is on the ropes, with a few different warlords vying for power and an Al Queda supported Shabab militant group close to toppling the regime. Jeffrey Gettleman’s article points out the unfortunate situation of Somalia’s government: “Squished between the two, we have to become friends with the pirates,” Mr. Noor said. “Actually, this is a great

Seriously, this is an alleged picture of Mohamed Garfanji

opportunity.” There sure is a great opportunity: for the pirates to take both sides! After all, the most nefarious dude in the Gulf of Aden, Mohamed Garfanji, isn’t you’re typical pirate.  Remember the name, as his clever consolidation of power by creating a grassroots following of local (the community in the pirate enclave of Hobyo), regional (coastal communities pissed off at international fishers and polluters that have decimated Somalia’s coastline) and national (a central government that is teetering on the brink of destruction and needs people-power, firepower and cash) might just see the purple-rain-coated buccaneer become the next leader of Somalia. Like Mitch Albom says, “build a little community of those you love and who love you.” And then give that community millions of dollars and anti-aircraft guns and try your hand at governance in the worst place on Earth!

So, whether you’re teaching Business 101 or planning Phase 3 of your Tea Party Revolution, remember that you can always learn from Pirate Communities!

- JCH