The ‘Wolf of Wall Street,’ Jordan Belfort, on ethical selling and his return to legitimate business
NEW YORK—The story of Jordan Belfort has been a roller coaster ride. His memoir “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and the hit movie of the same name, tell how his pursuit of wealth and pleasure went off the rails, landing him in jail. Now a sales trainer and motivational speaker, he is adding another layer to the classic story of the American dream (or nightmare).
He always had a talent for selling and admits he abused it while running his own security firm, Stratton Oakmont, in the 1980s and 1990s. He sold so-called penny stocks to investors, causing millions in losses for his clients.
Eventually, he got caught, went to jail for securities fraud and money laundering, wrote his memoir, and started over as a sales and motivational coach. He says selling can be mutually beneficial if the intent is right, and he wants to benefit his current clients by teaching his sales system. They, in turn, are advised to benefit their clients by selling them useful products.
According to public testimonials, his endeavor seems to be working. If society is a good judge, then Belfort has made a full recovery from his 1990s notoriety: He will be included in the lineup at the star-studded Synergy Global Forum in New York on Oct. 27 and 28, alongside people like Richard Branson and Steve Forbes.
The Epoch Times spoke to Belfort about his turnaround.
The Epoch Times: You are a world-class salesman and teacher. After what happened in your life, how do you look at the profession?
Jordan Belfort: Sales is benign or malevolent; it depends on who is using it and how they are using it. It can be a wonderful thing that gets people things they need and solves their problems and helps them to have a more fulfilling life. Or it can be used to hurt people, sell them things they don’t need or that don’t work, or take their money.
In the beginning, I was even a bit reluctant to teach sales, because the system I created is very powerful and it can be misused. But it’s [about] the intent and looking to use it to help people. The system is legitimate. The key distinction is that you only want to use my Straight Line System or any system of persuasion to help people get things they need, things that are going to help them.
You are not looking to get people things they don’t need and just sell things to make yourself money. You are putting the customer first. If you are doing only that alone, you are 99 percent there with ethical sales.
The Epoch Times: But you did abuse the system when you were the “Wolf of Wall Street.”
Mr. Belfort: Yes, I did. I’m the first one to admit it. It didn’t start off bad—I wanted to make money and help people. But then it started to veer off from that. It happens to people all over the world, not just on Wall Street. Wall Street is very prone to that because there is a lot of money involved. But yes, I lost my ethical way back then.
One thing the movie doesn’t portray well is the internal struggle that I had. Every single day, I was feeling bad about it and questioning it, but I was caught up in the greed and the power.
I think my drift to the dark side of human nature was an aberration from who I always was and the way I am now. So it was very easy for me to take a good look inside and become the person my parents had originally sent out into the world.
It changed when I got sober in 1998—I was addicted to drugs—five years before I went to jail. When I got sober, I went, “What did I do?” I would not say the drugs caused it. but they allowed it to continue without the guilt and remorse—they quiet that down. I got caught years after I went back on the straight and narrow.
Jail gave me time to think about things, and that’s when I taught myself how to write. Writing my book was a fundamental thing for me. I got to look at myself, my strengths, my weaknesses, my faults, my failings, my successes. This was a very powerful form of self-therapy, to examine myself and see what led me to certain behaviors and how to avoid those in the future.
In the beginning, when I got out of jail and out there to teach, it was all about myself: “I’m going to be ethical. I’m going to hold myself to the highest ethical standards. I’m never going to cross the line again.” But then I’m teaching other people how to make money and sales, so I thought I would also make sure to instill that message in other people as well.
When I took the system and brought it to a higher level many years later, I took some things out that would lead to misuse. But at the end of the day, it’s about the intent of the people who are using it.
Now, when I go out to teach people, it is all about ethics and integrity—and making money. I know for a fact that these are not mutually exclusive. You can maintain your ethics, and you can make a ton of money.
The Epoch Times: How does your system benefit your clients?
Mr. Belfort: The Straight Line System is by far the most powerful system of influence, persuasion, and selling out there. It’s as much a sales system as it is a system of communication. It shows you how to communicate with other people in a way that keeps them interested, that allows you to get your point across.
By teaching that to people, it doesn’t matter what type of work they do, whether they use it for business reasons or personal reasons. It makes a massive impact on their lives.
Go to my Facebook wall and read the comments. I get 50 emails a day from people who say how it changed their lives.
The Epoch Times: How are you looking forward to reconnecting with your friend Richard Branson at the Synergy Global Forum this week in New York?
Mr. Belfort: Richard, I have tremendously warm feelings for him. He was one of the instrumental people in helping me launch my speaking career. I gave a speech at Virgin in Australia, his company there. And we went to his house afterward and I met him. [That was] just when I was getting started, before the movie—my book just came out. So he invited me home and took my speech and carved it up into 12 little pieces and posted them online on the Virgin website. That got me my first 50 students.
Interview edited for brevity and clarity