Q: In your heyday you were making around US$1-million (R11.2-million) a week. How did it all go wrong? (Soundcloud: 0.40)
A: I was very young at the time; only 24 years old. I invented a system for training salespeople and, at the same time, uncovered a niche in the stock market – selling cheap stocks to the richest one percent of Americans. When these two factors combined the firms started to grow so fast that it started to outstrip my ability to create a good product to sell. That’s where it started to go wrong; I started to lose my ethical way. By a process of desensitisation, one step at a time, I started doing things I never thought I’d do.
Q: Was it greed? (Soundcloud: 2.03)
A: Sure! Remember, it was 1989. I recall getting out of the movie theatre after watching the movie “Wall Street” in which the character Gordan Gekko says “Greed is good!” Today I, obviously, know better. Greed is destructive. So, yes, it was greed.
Q: You stole from people. Are you ashamed of that? (Soundcloud: 2.36)
A: I’m not ashamed. I think shame is a terrible, destructive emotion. I’m remorseful, which is why I’m paying everyone back this year. In the beginning I did feel shame, but you can’t live your life like that. You’ll destroy yourself. Remorse is much more helpful, which is what I feel today. Because I feel remorse I now live my life as a businessman who does things in an honest way. I create wealth for other people, teach them how to make money and sell. I help a lot of entrepreneurs. At the same time I’m righting the wrongs of my past. I think it’s a far more healthy way to go about things.
Q: US authorities haven’t been too happy with the pace at which you’re paying people back. Are you sure you’ll be able to pay everyone back this year? (Soundcloud: 3.35)
A: The US government just got their heads handed to them by the judge, because they were completely full of it. For years I was overpaying! Far more than I ever had to! The judge ruled on this two weeks ago. He completely denounced the US government. They were wrong. I was paying back far more than anyone else ever did. It was my goal and my desire to pay back all the money this year.
Q: How much has your life changed since the events described in “The Wolf of Wall Street” (Soundcloud: 4.41)
A: In some ways my life now is the polar opposite of what it was then. I’m engaged to the woman I love. I travel the world and I work with entrepreneurs and salespeople. I motivate people to make money and live a more empowered life. My track record in helping people succeed is far better than anybody out there. I’m really good at it. I still have a very exciting life. I travel around and give seminars in front of thousands of people. It’s still exciting, but a much healthier way to live. I’m drug free, I create value for other people and I help them make money. Back then I had a selfish, greed mentality. I was just trying to get as much as I can.
Q: Your past life is there for everyone to see. They know your name and recognise you. Do people ever say, “You are that guy! You lived that debaucherous life!”? I’m thinking about your antics with cocaine and whatnot. (Soundcloud: 5.44)
A: Believe it or not; people love that about me! Often there’s a hidden wish fulfilment because people don’t live that life. People often say, “Wow! That’s so cool!” I don’t think it’s a healthy thing.
Q: We shouldn’t glamorise your life. (Soundcloud: 6.22)
A: Yeah, exactly. But let’s face it; some of that lifestyle is glamorous! The part that sucks is that people lost money. That part is just plain f*ed! Remove that aspect and pretend that everyone made money; then you could go the movie and just laugh your ass off. For me it’s very important that people get the right message that, although it was fun, you don’t want to live that life. I have a very powerful skillset – sales. That’s great stuff, but you’ve got to use that ethically.
Q: Are you, in a sense, trying to redeem yourself in these talks that you give? (Soundcloud: 7.25)
I already have redeemed myself! In my own heart; I’m redeemed. I’m living a great life. I do things right and I help people. I get more than a hundred emails a day from people all over the world who have attended my seminars, or watched videos of mine, who said it changed their lives. It’s not a matter of redeeming myself; this is the life I was always supposed to live! I come from a good family; I wasn’t sent out into the world to be crazy! I went off course, but this is the person I originally was supposed to be. I wasn’t brought up in a mafia family where I was supposed to be a criminal. It was a seven year period where I went off course and now I’m back on course again.
Listen to the entire interview (contains strong language) on Soundcloud below (or skip to the times indicated after each question above).
Also watch 60 Minutes’ Liz Hayes interview Belfort and watch him explode and storm off set when Hayes delve into his latest financial dealings.