An interview with Jordan Belfort, the Real Wolf of Wall Street

Dec 19 2017, 10:24 am

Jordan Belfort, the Real Wolf of Wall Street, comes to Vancouver on Thursday to tell his story and share his proven ethical sales strategies to increase sales and profits in your business. We had the chance to talk with Jordan and ask him about the movie as well as find out more about the way he did business.

What did you think of Scorsese’s interpretation of The Wolf of Wall Street?

I really loved the movie and I think Scorsese did an amazing job. Obviously there’s things I would’ve changed because the movie’s fictionalized in some respect, especially some of the business stuff. Of course, I understand why he did some of the things he did and I did agree with many of them because you only have three hours in a movie, he’s trying to get certain points across. But that did lead to certain issues, for instance the idea that I went down to Wall Street in the first scene and I’m a choir boy and I say, can’t we make our clients money too and I’m refusing alcohol and drugs. And then in the very next scene I’m snorting cocaine with strippers. Now you probably say, how does somebody lose their soul that quickly? The truth it is that’s not how it happened. That was about a two year progression from being a guy that had the high moral standards and wasn’t cheating on his wife to become the guy that was the crazy wolf. I understand that he has three hours and has to make a point, but I think it would’ve been better, and these were in my notes to Scorsese, to make it a slower descent, which is really the way it was.

Another aspect was that he focused on the companies and made it like they were s— and I was saying to the brokers that first we’re selling big stocks then to s—. That’s so far from the truth. Number one, you would never ever do that. If you’re looking to motivate people, the last thing you want to tell a salesman is, “hey, you’re selling s—.” Even if it was s—, you would lie to them and say it’s the greatest thing in the world because salesmen want to think that they’re doing the right thing. But the fact of the matter is that it wasn’t s—, that was never the intent. The mistake that I made, and I’m not trying to minimize what I did wrong, was that it was stock manipulation, it wasn’t that the companies were crap. The companies were some good, some bad. We had some big winners and a lot of losers, and that’s the game of venture capital.

The third was the speech where I’m saying farewell and I say I’m not leaving, and I stay. In fact, I left. And that’s completely fictionalized. I did leave the firm – I went to build Steve Madden shoes. But again, I understand they wanted the firm to be the backdrop because the firm is fun and exciting.

But on the flip side, there’s things that were amazing like ending with the seminars I give right now that really help me spread my message. So you take the good with the bad. And the punch in the stomach with my wife never happened.


How was it hanging with Leo DiCaprio?

Leo is an amazing guy and I have great respect for him. We spent a lot of time together, a couple hundred hours. Some of the stuff was us actually going through things specifically, other times it was just hanging out. He was observing me and trying to pick up my mannerisms and it was a great experience. I think one of the things people don’t realize about Leo is how hard he works. He’s talented but also, like most talented people who are successful, he has massive dedication to what he’s doing. I think one of the things about Leo is that he truly walks his talk, he is the way he appears to be in public, he has really high moral standards and he’s just a great guy.


People say your practices were unethical. How do you respond to that?

My practices weren’t ethical, I’m the first one to admit that I lost my ethical way. One of the positives I have is that I’m not condescending from on mount high and saying this is how you do things and I’m so great. I’m saying I had some gifts, no doubt, and I had some serious shortcomings as a businessperson and in my own life that caused me to lose my ethical way, and look what happened. I think that’s one of the great things about the movie and the story – you watch me pay the ultimate price, which is I lost everything and I went to jail. I would’ve probably been worth billions and billions of dollars right now if I would not have lost my ethical way. So to say that my practices were unethical – yeah, I was doing things that were not ethical, that were wrong and I’m the first to admit that. Here’s the irony – 95 per cent of what I was doing was totally right and ethical, but that five per cent was enough to destroy everything. Even one per cent of a lack of ethics is enough to destroy everything.


In today’s shifting consumer sensitivities, do you think your sales tactics are still effective? How have they evolved from when you first started doing business?


How do you motivate employees without financial incentives?

It’s a pretty obvious one, to me at least. Financial incentives are, in fact, probably the least of all the motivating forces for long-term motivation. Of course money is important, and that’s really about setting goals – you have goals to make money and you have certain standards that you want to hit. But what really motivates people for the long-term is helping them understand, what I call, their why. Why is making money important to them? Why do they want to better their lives? Why do they want to buy into a certain kind of culture? And from that why really is about what are the values, what’s the most important thing to any individual? And once you identify that, it’s really easy for them to self-motivate, and you help them identify, for instance, what’s their greatest pain points – what are the things to them that mean the ultimate pain? And what are the things that mean ultimate pleasure? Once you identify someone’s pain and pleasure, you can then help them anchor not taking certain actions into feeling pain and taking certain positive actions to feeling pleasure.

What means ultimate pain to me myself is very different from another person. So when you’re motivating people in a sales force, what you’re trying to do is typically hit on all these possible pain points and pleasure points. When you’re motivating people individually, you can tailor make it.


How much of your success was built on illegal activities?


How much of the partying lifestyle on Wall Street still exists today? Was any of it embellished for Hollywood?

Unfortunately, it was under embellished. I think it exists today in pockets. I think the drugs have changed somewhat. People say, did the movie bring back the Quaaludes? Thankfully they’re not around anymore. I think there’s a lot more cocaine and ecstasy and I think some people are doing it and some aren’t. But certainly the partying lifestyle is always going to be there on Wall Street. It’s a high pressure environment, people are looking to blow off steam, there’s a lot of young people and it’s always going to be there. Is it to the extent of what we were doing at Stratton? Most places it’s not. That was a culture that was a lot of young people and it just spiralled out of control. Over time, any culture always becomes an exaggeration of itself – it has what’s called cultural drift, so it starts off one way and then it feeds on itself and before you know it the culture becomes exaggerated.


If you just graduated in today’s world, what’s one thing you’d do to stand out of the crowd?

I’d be thinking of starting my own business, I’d be focusing on something online. Some people say that it’s so hard now with the Internet, but I know for a fact that the Internet has made it easier for someone to establish themselves. There’s so much you can do online now. If you know how to use it right, the web serves as the great equalizer for someone that’s just getting into business. I would distinguish myself by trying to come up with an idea.

Some of the rules I teach people about business is to get into business and be able to test things, and I call it failing elegantly, meaning how do you get into business, test ideas out and not destroy yourself. So I would certainly be out there, going to the brass ring, taking my chances and learning the rules of success. Ultimately if you take some calculated risks and learn the rules of success, you’re going to stand out of the crowd by your successes. It’s also how you manage failure, and both things are needed to achieve success.


Who would win in a fight – Jordan Belfort or Gordon Gekko?

Wow, I’ve never heard that one… I’d kick Gordon Gekko’s ass.


What’s your favourite thing about Vancouver or Canada?

Well, the last time I was in Canada I was there on vacation with my family in Niagara Falls. It’s been a long time. But the thing I love is the sense that it seems like Canada in many ways has a lot of the great qualities of the United States but there isn’t as much political turmoil there – and this is my perception. Sometimes the US invokes the hatred around the world of militaristic, colonial – even though we’re not colonizing. And I think Canada has a lot of the advantages like economic strength but it seems like you’re not trying to impose your will on the world, which I think is a good thing.

I’m really excited to go to Vancouver. I know there’s a very vibrant entrepreneurial market there, and that’s my core market of salesmen and entrepreneurs and people who are success-oriented. So I’m very excited to be there and I’ll see you soon!

*End of interview*


If you’re interested in hearing more of what Jordan has to say, he’ll be in Vancouver on Thursday, May 1 as part of his tour across Canada. Register now and use the promo code VBUZZ20 to get tickets for $117 (regular $137).