The Wolf of Wall Street: an ethics lesson

The Wolf of Wall Street: an ethics lesson

Is the post-GFC business community – especially the finance industry – any different from the days of the Wolf of Wall Street?

Is the post-GFC business community – especially the finance industry – any different from the days of the Wolf of Wall Street?

 If someone were to play you in a movie, who would you like that to be? For the boys, you’d probably take it as a compliment if the king of the world played you.

Leonardo DiCaprio has the lead role in The Wolf of Wall Street. Originally a sensational book about drugs, sex and the almighty dollar, it’s coming soon to a theatre near you, thanks to Martin Scorsese. This book resonated with me because it’s about business ethics – or a serious lack of it.

The Wolf of Wall Street is the real life story of Jordan Belfort. 

He became famous in the 1990s because he started a stockbroking firm called Stratton Oakmont, a boiler room that made millions by swindling investors.

He was addicted to profit, ethics be damned. Basically he and his salesmen got on the phone and pressured clients to buy stocks, which they then manipulated. (Fashion note: one of the IPOs they managed was Steve Madden, ticker code SHOO).

He went to jail, did his time. But he’s now transformed himself into an author and is on the speaking circuit. He’s a changed man.

The moral to the story is that even if you’ve reached your lowest point, you can go through a transformation, bounce back and become a positive influence by warning people against greed. Belfort’s now earning millions again and paying investors back.

Some of the wild things he did back in the day include: falling asleep in a pile of cocaine big enough to use as a pillow; convincing his wife’s sweet old auntie to smuggle money out of the US; and during the height of his success, he bought (then sank) the yacht formerly owned by Coco Chanel.

Has the business world really learned from this type of transformation?

Essentially the Wolf’s story is about ethics. But being unethical looks so glam on the silver screen. The Wolf dresses sharp, can pull the chicks, and made loads of money.

Has the business community – especially finance – transformed for the better, post-GFC? Is there a lower tolerance level for these shysters?

The Wolf of Wall Street has evolved from the likes of Gordon Gekko and Sherman McCoy, the original 1980s Wall Street masters of the universe. In fact, Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities provided inspiration for Belfort’s book – written while Belfort was in jail.

The millennium version is Richard Gere’s character in Arbitrage – who is somewhat more multi-dimensional as he’s convinced his dubious business practices are excusable because he is saving his company and therefore his employees’ jobs … while lying to the market.

Oliver Stone had wanted Gordon Gekko to be the antihero. The Wall Street mantra, ‘Greed is good’, was meant to be ironic. The unintended consequence was finance grads wanted to be just like Gekko. (And as an aside, how versatile is Michael Douglas, in Liberace? Bravo! Five stars.)

Perhaps Stone made the sequel Money Never Sleeps because the moral lesson didn’t quite sink in with audiences the first time around?

And Scorsese knows he’s onto a winning formula.

Publisher's Note: Jordan Belfort, the Wolf of Wall Street, will be addressing advisers at the upcoming Wraps, Platforms & Masterfunds Conference. Don't miss out:

About Caroline Regidor
Caroline Regidor

Caroline Regidor is managing director of First Degree PR. She has over a decade’s experience working within the media industry and providing communications advice, often on behalf of financial institutions. 

She has a combined Bachelor Degree in Media and Law, a Masters in International Politics and a Masters in Business Administration.

The Wolf of Wall Street: an ethics lesson
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