Martin Scorsese’s 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street certainly made the financial services industry look like an interesting place to work, although remember that interesting isn’t necessarily the same as good, fun, or morally correct. Leonardo DiCaprio plays the real life figure Jordan Belfort, who came from reasonably humble beginnings and worked his way up to the head of his own brokerage firm, pocketing millions along the way, via (spoiler alert!) methods that weren’t exactly legal. After a wild, outlandish, drug and prostitute saturated ride to the top, the authorities eventually discovered that Belfort’s Stratton Oakmont company had been guilty of (among other schemes) pumping and dumping, which occurs when shares are purchased at a low price by the company directors, who then get their staff to increase the value by making misleading, overly positive statements to their clients. The price climbs, and the stock is then unloaded at the higher price. It sounds like a nice way to get rich, doesn’t it? Shame it’s not legal. The Wolf of Wall Street offers many interesting life lessons – some of which might land you in prison, and yet some of which might actually be useful.
“Let me tell you something. There’s no nobility in poverty. I’ve been a poor man, and I’ve been a rich man. And I choose rich every fucking time.”
1.) Never give up
A quote from Mr Belfort’s post prison career as a motivational speaker: “If you want to be rich, never give up. People tend to give up. If you have persistence, you will come out ahead of most people. More importantly, you will learn. When you do something, you might fail. But that’s not because you’re a failure. It’s because you have not learnt enough. Do it differently each time. One day, you will do it right. Failure is your friend.” These are certainly wise words, and yet his so-called persistence landed him in jail.
2.) Show professionalism
One of the ways that Belfort and his employees were able to convince their clients to part with their funds and investing in stock that really wasn’t worth the effort was through their apparent professionalism. The team worked to sound polished and believable, and their clients didn’t bother to do any independent research to check the truth of the claims. Belfort has said that if you’re ever presented with a fantastic business opportunity that seems too good to be true, then do a little research, since it probably is.
3.) Find your way
Since this is a Hollywood movie, it’s helpful that there are a few instances of overcoming adversity, because it’s rather helpful from a narrative point of view. Early on in the film, Belfort loses his job, his supposed route to the top after stockbrokers everywhere have to deal with the 1987 Wall Street crash. Rather than throwing a pity party, Belfort picks himself up, dusts himself off and finds a new route to the top (although he maybe took a few wrong turns along the way).
4.) Wake up!
Be wary of stimulants you might need to get through the working day. Sure, many of us can’t really face the working day without just the right amount of caffeine twitching in our veins, but seriously – leave it at caffeine. The Wolf of Wall Street features massive consumption of Quaaludes and cocaine to get through the working day. Just because something wakes you up, it doesn’t necessarily make you productive!
5.) Love what you do!
It’s important to love what you do. DiCaprio’s portrayal of Belfort shows a man that loves the perks of having large amounts of cash, and is reasonably driven by the acquisition of wealth, but Belfort also seems a person genuinely interested by how his industry works, looking at it in an abstract kind of way in order to navigate his way through the financial forest
6.) Never accept no for an answer
Belfort and his team never accepted no for an answer – it simply wasn’t an option, and their persistence was admirable. Having said that, they persisted in badgering the client into saying yes and making a subpar investment, meaning that in this instance, they should have accepted no, or never asked the question. But still, it’s a good strategy for many operations.
7.) Keep your team happy
There’s one thing that Belfort knew, and that was how to keep his team happy. This isn’t a literal message to take from the film, since the Stratton Oakmont team were kept happy by copious amounts of drugs and prostitutes, as well as having a chimpanzee visit the office. OK, so maybe that last one wasn’t so bad.
Belfort’s greed might have been his undoing. He was motivated by money, as were his managers and teams, and it seems that the challenge in the latter stages of his company’s existence was more about protecting his business empire than continuing to grow. If money is the key factor, then things such as respect for your clients go by the wayside, and there’s no loyalty for the future – when you might need it.
9.) Grow your business
Stratton Oakmont grew very quickly, and yet this was perhaps a flawed business model. Belfort was able to grow his business interests at a phenomenal rate; although this was because there were dubious (although highly profitable) business methods imbedded in their operations from the get go. Don’t be so tempted to take the easiest way to grow a business – slow and steady wins the race.
10.) Be professional
Remember to be professional. An apparently true event that was depicted in the film was when Belfort flew to Switzerland, took rather a lot of drugs to relax him for the flight, and then ended up touching a Flight Attendant in a place that he really shouldn’t have. He avoided arrest because of a friend in a high place, and most of us will never be in a similar situation, but please remember that you’re technically at work when you consider having a fifth glass of wine at a work party.
11.) Interesting facts
Some unimportant and yet interesting facts we can take away from this film – Leonardo DiCaprio is now in his early 40’s, and is probably too old to convincingly play a 22 year old in flashbacks. Also, Matthew McConaughey was still worryingly thin in this movie after losing a lot of weight for his film The Dallas Buyers Club. And while Jonah Hill is proving himself as a credible actor, he might always just be that funny chubby kid from Superbad. And finally, the end of the film features a small scene set in New Zealand, and it’s fairly clear that the filmmakers have no idea what the New Zealand accent sounds like – it’s not London cockney meets Crocodile Dundee.
12.) American dream
Perhaps Business Insider summed it up best with their comments on the film, “The American Dream isn’t about becoming middle class and having your kids go to college, it’s about becoming ridiculously rich. But the institutions that allow people to become ridiculously rich (Wall Street banks, etc.) aren’t open to people with the wrong background and without the correct connections and breeding. So in light of that contradiction, the only way for normal’s to achieve the American dream is to find something that’s in a grey area of the law.” Whether or not you learn a true lesson from the movie might depend on if you agree with this statement or not…