These are some important business lessons an entrepreneur can learn from The Wolf Of Wall Street film. After watching the film, I wrote this post in an adrenaline driven frenzy.
If you have not yet watched The Wolf Of Wall Street, I would suggest you go watch it and then come back to read this post because it is full of spoilers and you will enjoy it more once you know what I am talking about.
This film has the to be the best I have seen in 2013 and 2014. It is fast, compelling with tight direction from Martin Scorsese, a performance of his life from Leonardo DiCaprio and a superbly written story by Terrence Winter. The film is based on the true story of the real life Wall Street wolf, Jordan Belfort.
You will love the extreme swearing, nudity and strong sex scenes that are seamlessly interwoven into the plot and hardly seem out of place or forced – if such things turn you on. The film was also quite hilarious at times with loads of gags. You will also get a crash course on how to use drugs to become invincible – or so Jordan thought. And yes, you can not help but be mesmerized by Jordan’s trophy wife, Naomi Lapaglia (played by the blonde bombshell from Down Under, Margot Robbie).
But as I watched the mayhem, I saw clear lessons for both life in general and business in particular.
1) Get a great business MENTOR
At the beginning of the film when Jordan gets a job in a investment brokerage, he is mentored by Mark Hanna (played by Matthew McConaughey). These two characters have a lunch during which Mark explains the keys to success on Wall Street and the world of stocks.
That talk inspires Jordan to embrace the true essence of what success means on Wall Street. If you want to be really successful in business, you need a mentor who has been there and done that. Mentors can teach you about the pit falls and traps that you would otherwise have to learn the hard way. They can also help reduce the time it takes you to success.
It is easier said than done – getting the right mentor, though. People in the business world rarely ever mentor others – either because they do not want others to succeed or are afraid of giving away their secrets, lest their mystery and aura diminish. The trend is changing these days and more and more successful entrepreneurs are coming forward to share their wisdom. However it is hard to distinguish between the fake mentors (who are pretending to mentor to gain more exposure or traction) and the ones that really and genuinely want to share their insights.
Some good places to look for, engage with and connect to mentors are Quora.com, LinkedIn and Google+ communities. Don’t be shy. After you identify the one you think would be the right mentor for you, reach out to them and let them know you want to be their padawan. Think long term and treat them with respect.
2) Put together a LOYAL team
After the 1987 stock market crash, Jordan is back on the streets, so to speak, and is looking for his next job. He then finds a job at a penny stock brokerage. He excels there too and after a little while decides to open a company. At this stage, he starts recruiting a team of misfits from his friends circle, starting with Donnie Azoff (played by funny Jonah Hill). They do have some selling skills but Jordan trains them to be killer salesmen.
The traditional way of putting together a team is to find the best talent out there and hire them. That could be difficult at the best of times and impossible most often than not. Believe me, I have had that challenge in almost every business that I launched.
Entrepreneurial ventures and most businesses can not take off and be successful with out a team of people who are committed to the cause and give it all. Putting together a team that is more loyal than they are talented could be the key in situations like that. Loyalty and commitment can make up for any shortcomings in terms of talent or skill – of course only if you have the talent to train and motivate the team to excel at what you want them to excel at and the team has the potential and interest.
Years ago when I launched a software company and had a CMS product idea that I wanted to develop, I found it nearly impossible to find people that were talented AND could share my vision and passion for the company and the product. So I was forced to find people from my inner circle who had no experience whatsoever running a software company or launching products. But they shared my passion and vision absolutely and this enabled me to help them pick up programming and other skills that were then used to help me launch the company and run it.
3) Have a solid PROCESS
Jordan creates a script that he trains his team on which leads to the tremendous success that the company enjoys in such a short time. He takes a bunch of ordinary people and turns them into killer sales people with the help of his script.
Having a process and fine turning that periodically is a great recipe for success in any business. Most often you find business owners not really spending time and effort writing down their business processes. This is because they may believe they know the process and the business so well that they do not need to write any thing down.
But the advantage of writing down a “script” of your business process or sales pitch or rules of engagement with your customers is that you can periodically evaluate the effectiveness of that process and then think of ways of improving or fine tuning that process.
The Japanese have a term for this – Kaisen. It is a process of making small but regular changes to a process which leads to big improvements to the overall flow.
When was the last time you thought about your sales process. “Every day!”, I hear you say. But have you really thought about it? Have you analyzed it precisely? Writing it down will make it easy for you to analyze the process and this in turn will help you make improvements to it.
4) MOTIVATE Your Team to do great things
The biggest factor to the success of Jordan and his company was the ever growing hoards of passionate and loyal brokers who made the millions for him and his company. However, it is Jordan’s extraordinary talent of motivating and training people that actually made that possible.
Spend time and effort learning how to motivate people. Read books on coaching, NLP, training and sales. Be obsessed with figuring out how to motive your team and employees. Spend time understanding your team and their psyches. Understand what makes them tick and then come up with rewards that would motivate them.
Organize a team outing once a month or two months or whatever. Spend some money and organize a nice lunch or party. Spend time thinking about and coming up with a brief speech that would motivate and energize your team. Let them know your passion for the company. Treat them like family and do it with your heart.
5) Let your team and employees be FREE
There are several scenes in the movie where the staff engage in over the top behavior including taking drugs and having sex in the office. Jordan seems to be ok with that. But when one of the employees cleans his fish bowl just before they are ready to launch an IPO, this employee gets humiliated and then fired – even though he had completed his work and had a few minutes of spare time.
Let your team members be free to do what they feel is the best (with in the the confines of what is acceptable, ethical and your rules) in conducting their tasks. Do not micro manage them. Give them a responsibility and let them free to do what is necessary to achieve the result.
I can imagine you shaking your head at this and thinking that could be a recipe for disaster. But you would be surprised. Of course I am not condoning drug usage and sex in the office but I am sure you get my point.
Ben Parker tells Peter “With great power comes great responsibility”. When people are given ownership of tasks, they strive to do good by them and achieve success. It is usually when people are micromanaged that they tend to perform poorly and some times even act against the common cause.
6) Hold Your NERVE
One of the pivotal moments in the movie is when Jordan learns that an FBI agent is very keen on his trail and against the advice of his confederates contacts the agent. There is a scene when Jordan invites the investigating FBI agent (played by Kyle Chandler) on to his yacht to try and bribe him. He did it because he could not hold his nerve and wait it out.
In business, you need to learn to hold your nerve. When negotiating deals, contracts, quotes or with vendors, most business owners tend to lose their nerve and become afraid and act hastily. They succumb to pressure and offer discounts. They are afraid of losing the sale and hence take up clients that are not the right fit for them.
You have to think of the other party to be in the same boat. It is very rare that the one you are negotiating with is in control of them selves and know what they are doing. You need to spend time training yourself to be able to hold your ground and walk away if required. Think long term. Yes, we all have bills to pay and when sales are hard to come by, it is only natural to scoop up any crumbs that fall your way.
But RESIST the temptation. Look at the root causes of why you are not getting sales. Which aspect of your business is the bottle neck? You may have a great product or service but do people know about it? If you depend on the search engines, then educate yourself to rank better. Look at where your leads come from and focus your efforts on understanding why they are not coming.
7) Listen to your ADVICE Counsel
When things were becoming hot and it was more and more likely that Jodan would get into really hot water with the FBI, his Dad and attorney sit him down and talk to him about walking away and protecting himself. Jordan agrees and then arranges for a meeting of his employees to announce his departure. Mid way through his speech, his ego kicks in and he with draws his announcement and he is back in the game!
You should surround yourself with people who can give you sound and impartial advice. You should then evaluate and listen to their advice if it makes sense. Letting your ego run amuck will lead to trouble for your business.
To translate that into a typical business scenario, a few years ago, one of my businesses was at a cross roads and I was advised by my trusted advisors to start shifting into a stance that was being taken by the top dogs in that field. However, my ego got the better of me and I stuck to my guns believing that my sense of ethics were superior to those big competitors and that I did not want to go down that path.
That decision nearly cost me my company. Had I taken the advice and acted on it, my company would have been wildly successful.
8) Take ACTION
What we see in every frame of the movie is that Jordon is taking action and he is empowering people to take action. Of course most of the action was towards a negative sphere but the principle is important.
Watch you industry like hawk. Watch your competitors. I was blind to my competitors, was late to take action and almost lost my business. Be sharp and have your finger on the pulse of your industry and your target market. If you sense that tastes or needs are changing, then MOVE!
Do not be complacent just because “business is doing ok” and you do not want “fix what is not broken” etc. Complacency will wipe out a business when the tides come in. Being average in business means death to your company! And averageness usually comes from no taking the right action at the right time.
Of course to know when to take the right action, having a business mentor, as mentioned in point #1 above, would greatly help.
9) Build a CULTURE
Although the culture that Jordan built in his company involved drugs, hookers and madness, it does illustrate the point that the culture of your company is one of the most important contributing factors for success. Tony Hsieh of Zappos has proved that to the world.
Build a culture in your company that fosters loyalty, innovation, happiness, brotherhood and a sense of working towards a common goal. Your company culture – even if it is just you and your wife running the business, would have a tremendous impact on the growth and success of your business. Be brutal and trim away any one that creates a negative aura or taints the culture. Let the company culture be the focus and profits and success will follow.
In my own business, I have seen this happen with tremendous success. In 2008, I got rid of a partner who I felt was draining away the energy of our company and being fearful and negative. In 2009, our company saw record sales and revenues. It was quite dramatic. Do not confuse “caution” with “negativity”. You need caution but negativity will kill your company culture and lead to the death of the company itself.
10) Be ETHICAL
The one single thread through out the film is how Jordan and his band of merry men push the limits of ethics and use their talent and gifts to scam people and the system which ultimately leads to Jordan to jail.
When I started writing this post, I did not want to include the ethical aspects of the file and the moral dilemmas. I felt that if the readers thought I was advocating the unethical and immoral aspects of the life of Jordan as depicted by the film, then so be it, because I am sure anyone with a little bit of intelligence would see that I was trying to exhale the virtues of the film and translate them to business principles.
But as I completed the post, I realised that ethics play an important part of being a successful business and that with out having a strong moral compass, success would not be long lasting and would not mean much. Loss of ethics does not happen over night. It happens in small steps. Each time you step over the line just a step into the dark side and then step back, you move the line a little. Doing this several times can lead to you doing things you never thought you would and lose all perspective of morality and ethics.