Opinion: Why the Wolf of Wall Street was a conman & gives entrepreneurs a bad name
June 10, 2014
There is no doubt that of the millions of people who watched the “The Wolf of Wall Street” movie starring Leonardo Di-Caprio in the starring role of Jordan Belfort could be mistaken for thinking it was just another Hollywood comedy in the style of “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”. Yes for many it was entertaining and no doubt it has helped Belfort with the reformation process he has been trying to undertake since he was released from four years in federal prison and the order to repay more than $110 million he swindled from investors and stock-buyers.
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Mind you, having served 22 months in federal prison for a “pump and dump” scheme the estimated losses were actually more than $200 million as opposed to the $110 million ordered as restitution by the courts.
So why is Jordan Belfort being showcased on the EntreHub? Is it because we think he has done a wonderful job at picking himself up from humble beginnings and striking out in the hardest of circumstances and finding himself on the road to success because of a great start-up idea? Well no – in actual fact he is quite the opposite – a wolf in sheep’s clothing thinking he is an entrepreneur while all the while scamming people out of money. Now, that’s not the EntreHub who have made that determination – no, we can thank the authorities and federal court for that determination – what is our determination is that people like Belfort actually give entrepreneurs a bad name.
Of course people would argue that while he has done his time he should be allowed to get on with his life – and that is right – but in order to do that you really do have to accept what you have done and more importantly not what you did as an entrepreneur but as someone running a scam. In fact the 60 Minutes interview with Liz Hayes was more an insight into how many people think the Hollywood story in essence glamorises what was a monumental theft. Of course, he walked out of that interview because he didn’t like the line of questioning and yet here he is out there talking about his life on the speaking circuit as if he has lessons to teach.
So, we developed some quick lessons that we think all entrepreneurs should learn from the “Wolf of Wall Street”, Jordan Belfort:
Don’t confuse business ethics with convincing yourself that sales and selling things is somehow okay because it absolved you of any such ethics: In the interview with 60 Minutes and footage that is available in the public domain it is very much like Belfort is somehow saying he is reformed and therefore he must be a much more ethical business person than before – yet the sales techniques he is teaching are the same ones he has used for many years that he has built his reputation, stock and trade on. In the end if you share those same values you may in fact find people not wanting to buy from you at all.
Don’t prey on the elderly: from one investor interviewed by 60 Minutes: “I kept working till I was 70 years old to help pay back the banks I borrowed money from.” It is tempting for many people to try and go for a client that is perceived to be a quick win and, in the end the elderly and the people who are about to retire are amongst that cohort. The truth is these people very rarely have the ability to claw back the losses and often end up living a harsher life as a result. So, when Jordan Belfort states that there are degrees of losses that range from the bad to the horrific does he take into account the fact that while they may have had a reasonable retirement nest egg the broader implications of the loss are much more substantial?
Don’t prey on people who are either poor or not in a position to understand what it is you are really selling them: Often people think that an easy customer is the best customer and in order to get them to sign on its okay to overwhelm them with so much nonsense that it appears to be credible after a while. Many of Belforts former employees said he the technique was simple and not to get off the phoned until the “client had buyed or died”
Don’t think there is any easy way to make money: Look there is no easy way to make money. You have work hard and never take the easy road because it is more than likely fraught with danger over time. Few people get away with scamming and, in the end, whether you are Bernie Madoff or Jordan Belfort a scam is still a scam and victims are still victims
Ironically enough his initial story is like that of many entrepreneurs who come from little with dreams of making it big. Born in Queens in 1962 he operated a seafood and meat business before it went bust in the 1980’s only to find himself selling stocks.
Today he is earning money from books, sales courses and public speaking while the Department of Justice still investigate the money trail to ensure restitution to those victims.
So, ask yourself these questions – is it acceptable for a wolf in sheep’s clothing to say he has had his road to Damascus moment and that he is fully reformed? Is it right for someone who has spent time in jail for defrauding so many people for great sums of money to call himself an entrepreneur or does he give entrepreneurs a bad name?
Maybe we will leave the last word to former NYPD Detective and former friend of Belfort who said this on 60 Minutes: “He was a damn thief, a rat, he set those people up, that’s the facts.” And of course his own website which carries the tag line: “Can You Really Use The Wolf of Wall Street's Sales Tactics To Ethically Persuade People And Make Money?”
The answer to the tag line: no Jordan you cannot. I would call it con artistry not ethical sales techniques. I hope in time he realises that because at the end of the day he has the bones of a great entrepreneur but the ethics need to be lived not glossed over.
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