Monster or Mastermind? 3 Business Takeaways from Wall Street's 'Wolf'
Entrepreneur and CultureIQ are searching for the top high-performing cultures to be featured on our annual list. Think your company has what it takes? Click here to get started.
Early in The Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort -- the unscrupulous stock trader portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio as examined through the lens of Martin Scorsese -- poses the audience this rhetorical question: What does money sound like?
The answer, it turns out: roaring, unintelligible expletives, as the scene cuts to a boiler room teeming with brokers shrieking at their clients -- and one another -- in a cacophony of ambition and rage.
For a film that set the world record for the most-ever uses of the F-word (506 times), the sound of money, Belfort seems to be telling us, is actually deafening.
While his countless affairs, Quaalude and cocaine addictions, and the now-notorious pump-and-dump scheme that landed him in federal prison may seem like a cautionary tale of precisely what not to do in business, much can be gleaned from Belfort's journey.
In fact, today, the former stockbroker travels the world as a motivational speaker, coaching aspiring entrepreneurs on his tried-and-true sales technique -- dubbed the 'Straight Line.'
Here's what we took from his story:
Charisma is king
What Belfort lacked in morality he more than made up for with his frenetic charisma. As a self-admitted seller of "garbage to garbage men," Belfort was nevertheless able to gain the near-instantaneous trust of his clients as well as generate a sense of urgency and need -- even via cold call.
His colleagues fed off this visceral energy, too. Standing at the head of the sales floor, he frequently addressed the office with a microphone in hand, pounding his chest for emphasis or breaking into song. "I want you to become ferocious, relentless, telephone terrorists!" he yells at one point, upon which the entire room bursts into cheers.
Moral underpinnings aside, Belfort's persuasive impact illustrates that self-belief and dynamism are essential qualities to the success of any aspiring business maker.
Bonding outside of the office breeds loyalty
The team-building exercises over which Belfort presides are enough to make even the least politically correct among us blush. Nevertheless, they result in a profoundly motivated team that works as hard as they play.
At one point, in a flagrant display of the firm's booming profits, Belfort offers a secretary $10,000 to shave her head (only if she promises to use the money for breast implants). The office applauds rapturously as, near tears, she clutches a wad of cash in one hand and inspects her newly-shorn buzzcut with the other.
Later, the moral rectitude of tossing little people onto human-sized dartboards is debated. Once this game is approved, it is met with a similar fervor. That's not to mention the countless drug-induced evenings spent in strip clubs or the weekends dancing drunk on yachts.
However debaucherous, the off time spent between Belfort and his colleagues ultimately results in a cohesive unit with unshakable loyalty.
When Belfort finally announces that he must step away from the firm, the office is literally reduced to tears. "I f-ing love you," one woman sobs.
And later, when he has to wear a wire to the office as part of a plea deal reached with the FBI, he slips a note to his colleague in warning. Though Belfort does ultimately testify against his co-workers, his loyalty endures -- even in the face of the law.
No -- we're not talking about the scene in which Belfort and a friend watch the 90s sitcom Family Matters while waiting for their Quaalude high to kick in. After forming Stratton Oakmont, Belfort hires his parents to oversee the company's finances -- which ultimately turns out to be one of his smartest business decisions in the film.
His father, Max, a former accountant, is named CFO of the company, and comes to serve as one of the only characters in the film capable of checking Belfort's mounting egotism and outrageous expenditures. While working with family can be a tricky balance, here it actually works.
In one scene, 'Mad Max' -- as he's nicknamed for his thunderous temper -- confronts his son for spending upwards of $27,000 on client dinners, and even more than that on prostitutes. It is one of the only instances in the film where Belfort seems mildly concerned for the consequences of his actions.
The intimacies of working alongside family can yield a necessary reality check, and Belfort profits from his father's honest assessment of his business.