The pitch could have been barked by any of the “motivational-training” snake-oil salesmen who ply their wares in the corporate sector. But the man behind this particular “sales and persuasion” one-day course in Australia last year thought himself special enough to demand a US$5,000 entrance fee.
The inflated price tag may have been something to do with the quality of the after-dinner anecdotes, as the man hosting the event was Jordan Belfort – a 51-year-old American ex-con who is among the most infamous crooked businessmen in recent history. In the 1990s, Belfort was reputed to have been worth £60m, earning £600,000 a week. He owned a sprawling estate in the Hamptons, a fleet of supercars and a 167ft yacht which once belonged to Coco Chanel and which he sank in the Mediterranean. He had a supermodel wife and a drug and alcohol habit. He employed an army of young salespeople who aggressively sold stocks in questionable companies to unwitting investors. His workers were rewarded with massive bonuses and parties where prostitutes and dwarf-throwing competitions were provided as entertainment.
Today, the disgraced swindler (a term Belfort hates) has reinvented himself as a reputable businessman, with clients such as Delta and Virgin Airlines. Much to his delight, he’s also being played by Leonardo DiCaprio in Martin Scorsese’s new film, The Wolf of Wall Street, which portrays the lavish, drug-fuelled and illegal antics at Belfort’s now-defunct East Coast stocks and shares brokerage Stratton Oakmont.
But, says Belfort, he’s not letting all that glitz go to his head – he is a new man since his 2004 conviction for defrauding clients of more than $200m. “We are not the mistakes of our past,” he recently said. “We’re the resources and capabilities that we glean from our past. It chokes me up a little when I think about it. I was a bad guy. And it wasn’t like I started that way. You can get desensitised to your own actions, it’s easy on Wall Street… I shouldn’t really care what people think of me. I know I’m good. But of course I do care.”
Former Assistant US Attorney Joel Cohen, who helped put Belfort behind bars, couldn’t agree less. “If he is trying to create the impression that he is basically an honest guy who stepped over the line a bit, that is dead wrong. This is a guy who woke up every day, seven days a week for many years, and said, What crimes can I commit today? He was looking to rip people off on a daily basis.”