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Beating the System

How five entrepreneurs did it--but you didn't hear it from us.

Now that we've got your attention, we have to confess: The title of this story is a little misleading. You should never try to beat The System.It will always win. If bureaucracy threatens to bury you, remember: The System is all-powerful and all-knowing. You can beat an egg, beat around the bush, or, at the risk of beating a dead horse, you can be upbeat.But if you're thinking of beating The System, think again--or at least think differently: "We tell our clients how to manipulate the system," stresses Frank Sweeney, "and to live as pleasantly as they can."

Sweeney would know. He spent a lifetime trying to beat The System, beginning with a botched bank robbery at age 18. Even while doing 23 years in federal prison, Sweeney was beating the system, or cheating the system, by doing everything from pretending he was Jewish to get the "sumptuous" Kosher meals to feigning mental illness so he could be allowed a private cell. Now the 55-year-old runs Frank A. Sweeney & Associates and is legally beating--er, manipulating--the system. His Tenafly, New Jersey, firm advises federal prisoners on how to survive the Big House.

So what's the secret to being a good manipulator? Advises Sweeney:"You need to think deviously, know the ropes and pull the right ropes."

Which is why we salute these five entrepreneurs. They're hardly in Sweeney's league, but we trust them with rope.


Geoff Williams, a part-time features reporter at The Cincinnati Post, frequently freelances for a variety of national publications. He says he's never really beaten The System, but notes that he was beaten up in the third grade.

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Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the May 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Beating the System.

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