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Jordan Belfort: The Serious Side of The Wolf of Wall Street

We began on serious a note, chatting about advice to his 25-year-old self and what is most meaningful now in life. But by the end, the conversation turned to wild parties and gold diggers. In this first of a two-part interview, we see a more serious side of the real Wolf of Wall Street

“Ask me whatever you want to ask me, I like to answer spontaneously. It is my gift.” Those are the first words from Jordan Belfort’s mouth during a phone interview last week – and ones we like to hear. Belfort, of course, is the real Wolf of Wall Street, as played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the recent Oscar-nominated film The Wolf of Wall Street. On the phone, he is confident, cocky and a fast-talker. At times, his voice resembles the voiceover of a Hollywood movie trailer. We began on serious a note, chatting about advice to his 25-year-old self and what is most meaningful now in life. But by the end, the conversation turned to wild parties and gold diggers. In this first of a two-part interview, we see a more serious side of Jordan Belfort. Tomorrow, he dishes the blunt, shameless dirt.

While we don’t necessarily condone or promote the actions and lifestyle of Belfort – love him or hate him – perhaps we can learn from his mistakes and successes. Either way, we wanted to catch up with him, now a motivational speaker, before he comes to Canada, starting in Vancouver on May 1.

Here are some lessons learned…

Slow down.
When asked advice for his 25-year-old self, Belfort was quick to reply. “Slow down, delay your gratification a little bit, and don’t take that first step over the ethical line. I was very young and had these amazing skill sets that allowed me to achieve massive success in the business world. However, what I didn’t have was restraint. With great power comes great responsibility. Just because you can build a business, make it into a mass entity and make a lot of money, doesn’t mean you actually should, because it is hard for successful businesses – at least sustainable businesses – to give massive value. I had a huge problem with growing so fast that I could not maintain the quality of what I was selling. Imagine Apple; they invent the iPhone and they have enough parts and skilled labour to make a million phones, so they make those million phones and sell them in the first three days. Now they want to quickly make 10 million more, but are they all going to suck because they will have to scramble to make them with sub-par parts with sub-par labour? What do they do? Apple, a seasoned and successful company, slows down instead. They decide to build the same quality of phones and stop spending on things like marketing and let their ability to manufacture product catch up to their ability to sell it. We didn’t have that discipline, and when I cracked the code and found all these expert closers and entrepreneurs within my business, I didn’t consider the fact that maybe I should not train 100 people a week. My ability to make good deals caught up with that and that was the beginning of the end for me. So I would tell myself to slow down.”

Fail elegantly and succeed wildly.
According to Belfort, entrepreneurship falls into two categories. One, he says, is failing elegantly. “How do you go into business and test ideas without risking everything? That allows you to be essentially wrong as an entrepreneur and maximize on the lessons but also move forward without destroying yourself financially. A lot of young entrepreneurs get into a business for the first time and make all these mistakes that are so easy to avoid – the certain pitfalls of entrepreneurship. You need to know how to start a business and to test your ideas without destroying them and how to fail elegantly. Focus on deals in a certain way that maximizes cash flow and minimizes overhead. The other aspect is what I call succeeding wildly. Meaning, what you do when 25-year-old Jordan Belfort is faced with the idea of oh my god, I just cracked the code, can I become a multi-billionaire? Then what? There are certain rules about working within a small business that are different than the rules to failing elegantly. One of them is to manufacture what you are selling at a rate that is going to maintain quality and integrity without knowing both sides of the equation – failing elegantly and succeeding wildly. I don’t care how great your IPO is; you will f*ck it up somehow.”  

With quick success, temptation is almost inevitable. 
With young entrepreneurs, Belfort says that there are two types of success. “You have success where there are fleeting indicators that tell you that you’re on to something. You go out and start a business and the early reads are great and you have passed that success test. Now you have to take that idea and make it into a real big business, which is what I discussed earlier. The other type of success involves getting caught in the trappings when the money starts to come in and imploding. And we see this a lot with successful young people, not just entrepreneurs. We see it in Hollywood, with rock stars, with the Justin Bieber and Lindsay Lohan types who blow up and end up acting out of control and nuts. When you start to hit it big really young, everyone tells you how great and wonderful you are, but inside you still have all those adolescent insecurities and are still the person you were back in high school or junior high. When everyone puts you on a pedestal but you really aren’t feeling it, that is sort of when you start using the drugs and buying things to make yourself feel better. You want to attach meaning to the money that you are making.”

Attaching meaning to life other than money helps in not becoming a train wreck.
According to Belfort, the way to really stop yourself from getting out of control is learning to attach meaning to what you are doing in life. “That really starts with having a really compelling vision of your own future, not just being a goal-oriented person. The biggest mistake young people make is they think goals, goals, goals, and there has to be something more powerful than your goals. The vision of your future and attaching meaning to it is more important. You need to ask yourself, what beyond money are you going to accomplish with your success? Life will become more comfortable to you if you really make the success sustainable.”

You won’t always be (quite) as selfish. Belfort pauses when asked the most important things in his life. “My family for sure is the most important right now. My kids are in college and are about to go out into the business world and it is important to me as a father to offer a responsibility to secure their future and make sure that they can go out there and take risks in their own lives. That is the number one. The second thing to me is that this movie has created an opportunity for me to relay my message and affect and empower people around the world. I get about 100 emails a day from people thanking me and telling me that I changed their lives. Travelling and doing all these talks is draining, but on the flip side you owe it to people if you have an ability to empower them. People love what I do, so it’s important to me to go out there and spread the message. Of course, it is important to make a lot of money. That is how I believe businesses should function: that you are giving back the value and the service and you naturally deserve to monetize on that value. The third thing is the charity work that I have done around the world. All of the work offers a platform for expanding that dramatically.”  

Writing a book is better than therapy. Belfort says he learned a lot about his earlier instant gratification insight from writing the book. “Writing the book was almost therapy on steroids because you are forced to examine your own life so intimately and really peel back the layers. As I did that, I think that really gave me a sense of what things I had done wrong, what I had done right, what the motivating factors were, so it was a really liberating experience. When I was finished with my book, I felt very different about myself. I felt very different about my own insight into what happened and how to live my life in the future, so that was really a huge thing.”

If you have it in you, you can bounce back.
On his greatest accomplishment to date, Belfort cites the comeback overall. “I think that if you would have asked anybody who knew me, in the 90s or early 2000s, when the shit hit the fan and I lost everything and I was going to jail, if I’d be rich again, they would say ‘yes’. Even the judge told me I would be rich again when he was sentencing me – he knew it and that was never even a question. Everyone knew that. They knew I had this ability to sell and persuade and teach people to do the same. When you have that ability and you build a role for entrepreneurs, you are always going to make money, so it wasn’t that. I think my greatest accomplishment was not just to make money, but also to do it in terms of public life – to be able to go out and create this redemption story, where all this negative energy tuned into positive energy and gave me a platform to do what was almost the unthinkable. From back in 2005 when I forced myself to write in jail to actually publishing the book, I think that the greatest accomplishment was really staying in the course and pursuing this vision to become a speaker and empower people. It didn’t exceed my expectations; it was exactly what I wanted it to be at its highest level. What is happening now in my life is what I really envisioned happening six years ago at the highest possible level. So the biggest accomplishment was not just to make money but also to do it in a way that was helping other people. The celebrity factor is irrelevant to me – it is more about a redemption story to empower people.”

In offering such insight and advice, Belfort claims many times that he is not preaching some sort of saintly life. This is simply his business sense for what it’s worth (or not).

Stay tuned tomorrow when he dishes on everything from what he really thinks of the film to how he parties now, how he partied then, and how to handle dating a Wolf of Wall Street type.

You will also hear what to expect at his upcoming appearances during his cross-Canada tour.
Vancouver: May 1
Calgary: May 2
Montreal: May 12 
Toronto: May 15 

#LYNL | (Live Your Notable Life)

Cover image: Wolf of Wall Street

First Jordan photo: Examiner

Second Jordan photo:

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