Learning from the Wolf of Wall Street

Nikole TenBrink


March 1, 2014


In January, RIMS formally announced its slate of keynote speakers for its 2014 Annual Conference & Exhibition, convening in Denver from April 27 to 30. The line-up includes an inspiring Harvard-educated Paralympics medal winner, a celebrity presidential speech-writing economist and a convicted felon. That’s right, RIMS is kicking of its annual conference with the infamous “Wolf of Wall Street,” which begs a simple question: Why?

Every year, RIMS (the publisher of this magazine) strives to engage keynote speakers that will appeal to a diverse audience and deliver a message that hopefully inspires attendees. There are so many considerations—budget, global appeal and reputation, among others—that the selection process is challenging to say the least. Understanding that the introductory keynote can set the tone for the entire event, RIMS has historically chosen speakers who are interesting, but safe. It’s what conference planners are trained to do.

RIMS 2014 is shaping up differently. As the film about his exploits garners increasing critical and commercial success, including a host of Academy Award nominations, Jordan Belfort is back in the headlines—and not always for the most flattering reasons. Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio may have done an excellent job of shining the Hollywood spotlight on his life in The Wolf of Wall Street, but they are also trying to tell a sensational story. RIMS’ goal is to deliver a keynote address that inspires its audience. To that end, RIMS chose Belfort, not because the society agrees with what he did, but because we can learn from him.

In 1998, Belfort was indicted for securities fraud and money laundering. He cheated the system and scammed hundreds of investors out of millions of dollars. His trading practices broke the rules and were clearly unethical. After his conviction, he served 22 months in federal prison and was ordered to pay back more than $110 million to those he defrauded. He is now required to forfeit a percentage of his current income to satisfy his financial obligations to the federal government and to pay restitution to his victims. He has committed 100% of his movie and book royalties and his speaking engagement fees to help fulfill those obligations, and is in full compliance with court rulings.

The selection of Jordan Belfort as a keynote speaker has raised some eyebrows. Some saw the movie and were horrified. Some were intrigued. Of course, what is portrayed on the big screen is not always reality, but Belfort is still a villain to many.

The truth, however, is not so simple. Belfort’s story is a cautionary tale of what can happen when fraud is left unchecked—a topic that has become increasingly important for organizations since the 2008 financial collapse. Despite his checkered past, the fact remains that Belfort’s business acumen, his ability to communicate and sell his ideas, and his knack for motivating others can offer valuable lessons for risk professionals as they seek to avoid similar pitfalls and work to drive their organizations toward greater success.
Nikole TenBrink is the director of marketing and communications at RIMS.

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