The real lesson for bankers from the Wolf of Wall Street
The $100m Wolf of Wall Street movie was released in Europe last weekend, promptly making an estimated $25m of its total global revenues to date of $759m. If you haven't seen it, the film depicts all the outrageous, disgusting, extravagant and amoral behaviors you might associate with a group of intoxicated, indulged avarice-merchants led by a man who used to peddle seafood door-to-door before getting a job in stockbroking.
Much has been written about the 'seductive' hedonism of the movie. Less has been written about the forgotten blurry video below, made at the Stratton Oakmont Christmas Party in 2004.
Therein, Jordan, AKA 'the Wolf', Belfort, parades in front of Stratton Oakmont's brokers looking curiously orange and intoning just how fortunate everyone is to be working at such a wonderful place.
Stratton Oakmont is really a "family firm," says Belfort. "Everyone here should have pride to be part of an amazing organization," he adds, "Things like this happen once in a lifetime - to be part of an organization that has such a family-oriented feeling, integrity, loyalty....Everybody at this party ought to be damn proud to be part of this organization. This is a special place, and a special thing, nobody else has this - cherish this time of your life people."
While Belfort's address is admittedly more gushing than anything you're likely to get at a town hall run by James Gorman or Jamie Dimon, it weaves in a lot of the key concepts favored by the senior banker rallying his troops: you're special, we're special, we have integrity, we are proud of what we do etc. etc.
And guess what? Belfort turned out to be speaking great untruths. In this later video, he said Stratton Oakmont had hookers in the basement and distributed drugs to its employees as if from a Pez dispenser. "Deep down at the root of it was evil," he declared with emphatic Manichaeism a few years after the Christmas event. Doesn't sound much like a family-run firm with deep integrity after all.
Moral of the story: don't listen to your leaders when they peddle notions of deliverance through integrity and client-servicing, They may be fibbing. They may be delusional. At the end of the day, the only moral compass you can rely on, in banking and elsewhere, is your own.