Jordan Belfort had it all. The success, the money and the lifestyle. He built up America’s biggest over-the-counter brokerage house, Stratton Oakmont, in the 1980s and 1990s — which employed over a thousand brokers — and made himself a fortune in the process.
That was the fantasy. In reality, Stratton Oakmont was a boiler room operation that marketed penny stocks and defrauded investors. After an investigation, Belfort was indicted in 1998 for securities fraud and money laundering, spending 22 months in a federal prison after cutting a deal with the FBI.
It was while Belfort was in jail that he wrote ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ a bestselling memoir that lifted the lid on his former life of excess, complete with monster yachts, orgies - midget-tossing. The film rights to the memoir were won by Warner Brothers, and ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, which starred Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role, was released last year, to critical acclaim.
Since leaving jail, 51-year-old Belfort has started a new career as a motivational speaker and author, and has said he is in the process of paying back $100m to defrauded investors. But what was it that initially drove him to make money? What pushed him to break the law? And what does he say to his critics?
Hello, Jordan. What was the initial motivation behind your desire to make money? Was it the lifestyle, the cars, the yachts?
Women, women, women. [Laughs]. That was what it was. When I was 21 years old, I loved beautiful women and I wanted to make a lot of money so I could have beautiful women, like a lot of guys, if they’re being honest with themselves. And it worked out pretty well. I’ve done pretty well in the women department, I’m fortunate in that. I’ve had some great women when I was rich.
Okay, I’m being a little bit cheeky here — that was one of my motivations. It was a bit more complicated than that. Once I got a little bit older, I have children, I want to ensure my children’s future and so on. But originally I wanted to get the beautiful girls and be a man of power, all these things a young kid that wants, if they want to be a success and have the admiration of your peers. So it’s a bit more complex, but like many men before me I love beautiful women.
Can you remember a specific period when you realised you had gone too far and that it would be impossible to go back?
Yes, there was. I’m trying to think where it was in the book. It’s an interesting question. Somewhere in late 1991, I wasn’t breaking any laws yet, but things were starting to happen. The firm had grown and I invented the straight line system and that was the game-changer. It allowed me to train all these young kids and turn them into sales powerhouses.
And that caused my firm to grow so fast that what happened was that I ran out of products to sell. I ran out of good product and I had to start selling product that was not, like, as developed yet. It was never about selling companies that weren’t real because you make more money on better companies. We just ran out of product to sell, so I sacrificed quality.
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