A Conversation with Jordan Belfort – HuffPost 9.26.14

Mike Ragogna: Jordan, given the fact that the movie had to be entertaining, how close did the movie The Wolf Of Wall Street come to the reality as presented in your book, and how well the Leo DiCaprio and the cast portrayed the players’ lives?

Jordan Belfort: In some respects, it was very accurate. In other respects, it was fictionalized. It’s hard to say a blanket statement because some things were wildly fictionalized and other things were dead-on balls-accurate. It’s a mixed bag, but over all, they really captured the feeling of what was going on really well. There’s some scenes like where I did the meeting and I’m going to leave the firm and then I say, “I’m staying, I’m not leaving, I’m staying,” that’s just pure fiction. I left. That’s an example of something that’s fictionalized, but it served the story and they want it to be exciting. I understand why it’s there. The first day on Wall Street I was a young kid, I wanted to make my clients money and the next scene I’m snorting coke in strip club. That’s stylized. It took like three years for me to go from being a good kid to the dark side. That sort of stuff. The scene in the boardroom, all the energy in there and the sales meetings, they were very accurate. They painted them up a little, there were things that we never did. I would never give the client the finger on the phone, no one’s ever snickering as we were calling, it’s not like that at all. And by the way, I’m not trying to make myself seem like a better guy, it’s just that you would never do that as a businessperson, as a motivator because it’s demotivating to tell people you’re robbing and cheating them. You would never do that. Some of the stuff like that that you’ll see in the movie is just meant to create an emotional response; it’s not really the way it was. But the stuff with the drugs and the parties, that was very accurate.

MR: The most interesting thing to me about what was presented in the movie was that you stayed with the company, but that’s not truly the case?

JB: No, it’s completely false. I owned the company Steve Madden Shoes, I went there.

MR: Where was the turning point where the business went on hyperdrive?

JB: The success of the firm was based on the system I created to train salesmen called the Straight Line. It was a way of teaching people how to close and the rapport and so on and so forth and that was what allowed me to grow so fast. I had uncovered this niche market which was selling five dollar stocks to the richest one percent of Americans. That forced me to come up with a new way of training salesmen. My guys were young and uneducated and couldn’t close rich people so that was what caused me to really go hyperdrive from the growth perspective. As far as the ethical path, I was doing things exactly right, it was great and then I took a bag of cash from selling one thing and then your ethical line blurs and before you know it step by step–you’re taking tiny little steps into things you never thought you’d do and then it spiraled out of control.

MR: And in the movie, there was huge international intrigue occurring simultaneously. To have lived through that…how real was all that?

JB: That was very accurate. If anything that was condensed, but it was totally accurate, the whole international Swiss banking thing. I decided I wanted to bring money overseas–that’s what I got in trouble for, it wasn’t the stocks, it was the money overseas. I’d taken a couple of trips there and I educated myself on the system, that was an interesting experience to say the least. Ultimately it was sort of the big mistake that gave them an easy way to indict me. Granted I’m the first one to say I deserved to have gotten caught, not even for that. That was a side thing I did. It was tax evasion, you know what I mean? It was stupid but once that happened that allowed them to get an easy indictment and then I pled guilty to all the stock stuff after. I deserved to get caught for the stock stuff. In the end, I guess the energy of the universe is balanced, right?

MR: Yeah, I hope so anyway. But it wasn’t just you. That didn’t happen in a vacuum, this happened because it was the way of life.

JB: Exactly. At the time, everyone was–let’s say as it turned out I wasn’t the only guy going to Switzerland. It was a big thing and it was a very common thing, if you had a lot of money banks would court you and they’d show you how to get around the law and that’s what was going on. It’s true. I was one of many people that did that and I guess the ironic part is that my banker was the one who gets indicted for the Benihana, right? On US soil! The irony of that whole thing was ridiculous. But they were actively inclined back then, the Swiss.

MR: That’s something that most people don’t even consider, that some of the corruption of US culture came from arenas that were tenaciously encouraging it, like the Swiss banking industry.

JB: Right. It’s really amazing because now you see that they’ve changed the law but back then it was wild! It wasn’t just businessmen; a lot of people had money overseas in hidden accounts, it was really amazing. I didn’t even know about that until I’d met a few people and they told me and I got over there and realized that the breadth of the business was amazing.

MR: The movie Boiler Room was also supposedly inspired by this event, right?

JB: Yep. That was the first movie made about my firm but it took a different perspective of a fictionalized rookie broker. On some level there were some things that were accurate. I don’t know, they caught a little bit of the feeling of it, but that was pretty fictionalized, Boiler Room. But it was a good movie I guess, some folks like it.

MR: It seemed to focus on the concept of it beyond Wall Street. It went bigger picture.

JB: Right, right…

MR: Jordan, during this stint, what happened in your interactions with your family and your friends? Were you ever able to step back and look at what was going on to any degree?

JB: Yes. There was a time. Around ’93, even before I stepped down in ’94–I founded the firm in ’88 and stepped down in ’94, about five and a half years altogether and then it ran another three without me–the last year and a half, I absolutely ate it. I just knew what had happened. I think why people are really intrigued with the story is that it wasn’t just about me getting rich, it was like all these young kids and breaking down the barriers of the Ivy League schools and the kids from priveleged families that would go out to Wall Street and get rich, and I created this place where anybody–didn’t matter what your background was, if you didn’t have an education or you were a terrible salesperson or weren’t really that smart to be able to talk common sense–I was able to show them a system that allowed them to become incredibly powerful on the phone. We used to call Straight Line “The Great Equalizer” because it equalized all these people. You came in, you were sort of the loser that was working at 7/11 and you emerged this guy making millions of bucks a year. That’s the thing that’s really amazing about the story, because let’s face it, people have made a lot more money than me. People made hundreds of millions of dollars a year and then later on in the hedge funds there was so much money to be made in that world. I was making fifty million a year and that became like chump change. Seriously, it got so crazy before the GFC, but there was the camaraderie, there were so many people that were affected by learning the system to sell and then what happened was all the hangers on–because there were two thousand people making money and then you had all the real estate brokers and the mortgage brokers and car salesmen and clothing salesmen and shoe salesmen and all these cottages springing up, that to me was the interesting part culturally. It was a cultural phenomenon back then and then the system spread to all these other little firms copying the system I created so you had another hundred firms out there employing tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of these young kids around that twere all making far more money than they would ever make without it. That was the cultural point of view. That’s my two cents.

MR: Yeah, and all of this was being encouraged by the concept of “success at any cost” in a lot of ways.

JB: Yes! And yes we saw the whole thing reach its pinnacle of ugliness in 2008, right, when it just seemed like every single person on Wall Street had lost their moral compass and the rating agencies that were supposed to be the safeguards of integrity are sending emails to each other saying, “Oh, I hope this piece of shit doesn’t get uncovered so I get my bonus,” and you can see from the top to the bottom it looks like no one cares anymore, right? Well that kind of started many eyars before that. I realize maybe Gordon Gekko in that movie Wall Street triggered this–I wouldn’t blame the movie itself but it certainly set the tenor for a generation of stock brokers. In the movie Wall Street, you didn’t see Gordon Gekko take the fall, it ended with him still on top. He got recorded but you never knew what happened. It was very glamorous. One of the things that was great about my movie was that you watch me get destroyed by it. There’s no uncertain terms that by the end of movie I get destroyed, and then you watch me make a comeback by doing it right–but not after I go to jail, I pay my price, I lose everything. I think that with the movie Wall Street you don’t get that. You watched all these super rich people and Gordon Gekko and you just left them them there. You can’t blame a movie but it certainly set this cultural way of thinking. When I went down to Wall Street everyone had that Gordon Gekko, “Greed is good, greet cuts through.” It was really very much in vogue and I think it’s feuled by the whole generation of activity that culminated in 2008 when everything blew up and this whole incestuous relationship between government and Wall Street, where people were working on Wall Street and going into the government and talking to treasury secretaries and changing the loophole and then their buddies on Wall Street would jump in. It was just crazy.

MR: What do you think is the fall out from this? You mentioned how in 2008 this all blew up, but what do you think is the fallout from that in 2014?

JB: You know, I think things have gotten somewhat better. After shock everyone takes stock and they realize that the values they had didn’t make sense. We all have values, right? And we take actions to try to meet our values. People don’t really change their values that easy. When people say, “Jordan, how does a leopard change its spots?” Let me just tell you: Number one, I was a really good kid growing up. It wasn’t like I was a career criminal. I came from a really good family from a high moral standing, I was raised to do things right and then I went on this journey in a defining career time where I was acting against the way I was originally raised. Once you do that, though, the only way you really get to change is A) through really intense therapy or B) through a disaster. People don’t change their values unelss there’s a cataclysm. That’s what happened in 2008 and that’s what happened to me. I went to jail and I had to re-examine my values and say, “What got me here? Obviously my thinking was flawed,” because my actions aren’t random, my actions are based on the values I had. My values were making me money and power and recognition and all those things that I thought were so important and things like family and doing the right thing just weren’t significant. Now my life’s the opposite, now I consider things like getting value number one, but I got there through disaster. I lost everything and had to re-examine my values. I think the world on a certain level went through the same thing in 2008 when we were on the bridge of financial meltdown and all of a sudden everyone was like, “Whoa, wait a second, maybe it’s not everyone’s right to own a big home and to be able to buy with no money down and leverage up your credit card and refinance and pull your equity out and pay them off so you can run them up again and do that again and again and again and maybe not everyone in Iceland is supposed to live at five times their capacity and people in Greece the same way and maybe there is accountability and so on and so forth. I think that’s what bothered some people very much; the accountability seemed to go around to the average person and yet when it came to the real people who caused it there’s a perception that because they were so-called “too big to fail” they never had to pay the price. They never really were held accountable and there were no convictions that you could really point to. I think that’s wehre a lot fo the frustration stems from. I think that lessons were learned and I think that values have shifted because they naturally do after such a terrible thing happens but that’s not to say that people have short memories. You already see it now with the real estate market roaring back. Hardly anyone would be surprised if in twenty years from now people are doing the same thing they were doing back twenty five years ago. History typically repeats itself.

MR: You’re on a Wolf Of Wall Street national speaking tour and seminar tour. You obviously go into your history, but is the point of the tour more than just those facts?

JB: Oh no, it’s really about money-making strategies. I teach them the system of sales and persuasion. I teach them the straight line system, I teach them about entrepreneurship, about trying to create multiple streams of income, about managing their emotional state, it’s really about success creation but not in the sense of like a get rich quick scheme. It’s more about the basics. “What is it really about?” It’s the mindset of success. How do you become a more effective persuader and negotiator? I teach them the straight line. It’s very empowering for people. Whether you’re a salesperson or not, on some level we’re all sales. You’re always trying to get your ideas and your concepts out there in a way that connects with other human beings and maeks them want to become a part of it and also get you what you want, too. It’s very empowering. What I do is I teach all that, but I teach it by telling the stories of my life, so I also get the cautionary tale across and some of the funny stories, so people get to laugh and learn and get the cautionary tale at the same time, but mostly they’re there to learn , thye’re there to learn the system of sales and influence. I would say about eighty percent of them are there because they want to learn how to become effective sales people and business owners. It’s mostly entrepreneurs.

MR: When you’re giving lectures, who are you looking at? What do these people have in common?

JB: Well, I would say ninety percent of them are business owners, entrepreneurs, wannabe entrepreneurs who don’t have the skills for it, and sales people. And then consultants, brokers, agents and experts. And I get ten percent moms and pops that want to learn to persuade better and want to feel more empowered and learn about the mindset of success. Most people live a really disempowered life because they’re almost conditioned to survive, not to thrive and you try to talk them out of that. They’re capable of a lot more than they think but they go through life and a couple of insults happen and some bad stuff and we lose self belief and from there it all spirals downward.

MR: Are there any simmilarities between the people that are coming to you now and the people who came to you in the beginning?

JB: Yeah, I mean there’s a lot of young people there in their early twenties and stuff like that. My audience certainly skews to the younger side but not extermely young. I would say the average age is probably twenty-nine or thirty. Late twenties, early thrities is the average age. The message I have, which is really straightforward, I teach them a system for making money, but not in the sense of giving them a get rich quick scheme. It’s more about the fundamentals. What are the things that you need to know to succeed at anything? And most people are sort of mystified, they think there’s got to be a million things, but it’s really not a million things. There’s a distinct number of things that you can know and once you know them you dramatically increease the likelihood of success. And also it becomes a lot more deliberate, you can plan better. Most people go through life in terms of making money a bit more randomly rather than doing it on purpose.

MR: Have you seen some results?

JB: Massive results! Just go to my Facebook wall and you can see them. Listen, I could send you a thousand testimonies, literally. I get countless numbers of testimonials from people all over the world who have been through my seminars, who have bought my home study course, some of them simply go to the internet and download my videos. I put it out there for free also. I’m happy to put stuff on YouTube to get the information out there and share it. I have tens of thousands of people who just send me emails that it changed their lives, it increased their fortune a hundred percent, they started a business, they’ve doubled their sales, on and on and on. Really amazing results.

MR: Do you feel that because of what you went through, you’re one of the best people out there to present a more balanced approach on how to do this now?

JB: I think I have a platform. I think a lot of the problem with the seminar world is that a lot of the people in theseminar world never really were successful. They were never actually in the business world. They got there by writing a book or selling tapes, they weren’t really in the real world. I got into this industry in reverse. I was in the real world building businesses my whole life and then in my late forties–who would’ve through this would happen? You write a book, a movie, it almost happened in reverse to me, so when I got into this world I started going to all the seminars because I wanted to see what they were saying and some of the stuff that people teach is ridiculous, it’s not real, it’s textbook, theoretical stuff that doesn’t pan out in the real world. I think on some level it’s just that I have so much life experience and I think that comes through when I’m on stage, I think I’m very congruent. I’m not telling stories about things I read in books, I’m talking about the lessons I learned in my own life. Also the movie’s been amazing because it’s given me a great spread, I know so many people that it’s easy to open up doors right now, I know so many successful people. I think that certainly I have a unique purview to teach people because everyone knows it’s the real deal. I’ve made the biggest success and the biggest failure, it’s like the best and the worst packed up into one.

MR: I always ask entertainers, “What’s your advice for new artists?” In your case, I’m not really sure what that kind of question is.

JB: [laughs] “What advice do you have for success-oriented people?” How about that?

MR: Nailed it, I like that.

JB: Really, honestly, this is my advice. Business and success and moneymaking has rules. There’s strategies. There’s things that you need to know, there’s strategies you need to learn. It’s not just about having an idea and believing in the secret where you can manifest your success. That’s certainly part of it and I believe in manifesting and the laws of attraction, but that’s only part of the equation. There’s things that you need to know and here’s the deal: Nowadays in the internet 2014 world where bandwidth is massive and you can just get videos in real time, all the information, all the learnings, all the lessons, all the strategies, all the tactics, all the models, anything that you would need to become successful at whatever you want to do is all out there for the taking. It’s all there, online, where you can quickly find out where to get it by going online. So if you’re trying to go out there and live a more successful life and make more money, to try to go it alone without educating yourself is absolutely idiotic. It’s like trying to be a doctor without going to medical school. It’s like trying to become a lawyer without going to law school. It’s like success with anything else; there’s certain rules and strategies and they’re out there now. I am really great at teaching and I’m not the only one who can teach people to be successful, there’s many people who are good at it. I have a unique way of doing it that’s very business-centric, very sales-centric, very entrepreneur-centric, people have different approaches, but the information’s out there and my advice to people is that whether it’s me or sommeone else at least go and educate yourself and get the specialized knowledge you need to go out and live your dream. Whatever dream you have, it’s goign to require some specialized knowledge, it’s going to require knowing certain people and having certain relationships, jknowing how to raise some money probably and it’s definitely going to require knowing how to close a deal and be an effective persuader. If you don’t have those skills then you go out and learn those skills. That’s my advice.

MR: How does one sift through all the people who say they’re experts?

JB: That’s the part that’s certainly more challenging, because the flip side of the internet is that there’s so much shit out there. There’s so many people out there posing as experts who really aren’t. What I would say is taht you obviously want to choose your mentor wisely and choose your model wisely and choose who you want to get information from wisely. I think that the rule of thumb would be that you want to find someone who’s done what you want to do at the highest level, who’s really succeeded in the real world. Number two you need someone that also is a good coach. Sometimes the best athletes are terrible coaches. Sometimes the best businessmen are terrible coaches. You want to find no only people who have done the highest stuff but who are also are great at teaching others to do that. And the third is that they’re accessible, they want to work, they enjoy it. If they don’t they’renot going to make themselves successful. I think that’s really the acid test. They have to have really done it in the real world, they have to have a knack for teaching it–And how do you know that? You can do the research on that, see for yourself. If you get close to one and they have a system but they don’t want to expose it and they keep everything in tight that’s not a good mentor for you. You want someone who will open up and slow things down for you and demystify success in any field you want to go into.

MR: You’ve written The Wolf Of Wall Street and Catching The Wolf Of Wall Street. Is the next one going to be Learning From The Wolf Of Wall Street?

JB: Exactly. The next one will be about influence and persuasion and then the next one will be general business rules. I definitely have to write this persuasion book. I hate writing. It drives me crazy. Writing is the hardest thing for me. It does not come easy to me. You’re a writer, it is really hard. I hate it more than anything.

MR: Jordan, you’ve basically said you feel remorseful about what you did and you’ve really turned it all around, but if you could go back in time, would you do it all over differently or the same way?

JB: I would do everything the same, except I wouldn’t have engaged in any behaviors that lost people money. I’m okay with being a drug addict and with the sex. I wasn’t happy–I was miserable–but that was my path. I had to make those misstakes to become the person I am and I accept that and I can embrace that, it’s my journey. I can’t ever embrace the behavior that caused losses to other people. That I would change. The drug addiction, the incredible sexual escapades, that stuff is gross and I’m not proud of it but I wouldn’t change a thing because that’s my life and it made me who I am today. I think every person should always remember that you’re not the mistakes of your past, you’re the resources and capabilities that you glean from your past. Every mistake that you’ve made can make you stronger so long as you’re willing to learn from it instead of dwell on it. Of course, I’m very remorseful and that’s why I’m doing this tour. I’m not even making money on this, I’m paying all the profits back to the people who lost money back in the day. It’s just the right thing to do. I’m kind of past the point of remorse, it’s just part of me. I don’t even question it anymore. You know what I’m trying to say? Yeah, of course I wish that hadn’t happened, but now I’m just paying people back, making a life for myself at the same time, empowering people all over the world and I love what I do. That’s the stage I’m at right now.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne


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