How Accurately Does Hollywood Portray Wall Street?
One of the most frequently asked questions I get as an investment professional in New York City: “Is Wall Street as crazy as they portray it in the movies?”
I thought in honor of the Academy Awards coming up this weekend that I would make a movie-related entry for GradMoney. The short answer to the question above is “Yes…and no.” I happened to arrive on Wall Street during the peak of the recession when most financial professionals had been cut loose and those who remained at the company were scared silly of making any mistake that would cause them to lose their jobs as well. What I have to work with are secondhand stories from colleagues in the industry, and they tend to all lean in the direction of craziness. It actually makes me very glad I was too young to experience Wall Street’s “Golden Years.”
How do I know the stories are true or reliable? Very simply put, most of the stories are so outrageous that no one with such a bland personality could make these up. To be that focused on your job and to earn that kind of money requires that you give up a lot of things…including having hobbies or an engaging personality.
Many of you may have seen “Wolf of Wall Street” with Leonardo DiCaprio and as someone who has heard stories in the industry, I was not that horribly shocked by the vile things that went down during the film. (NOTE: most Wall Street workers drop the f-bomb several times in each sentence when clients and the boss are not around). Here’s something that may surprise you: most of that movie was true.
One of my former work colleagues actually had his first job in sales at Stratton Oakmont – yes, it was a real company on Long Island – and he confirmed the insanity of that office. Each morning, I used to arrive at the office at a ridiculous hour and so did this particular salesman. Shortly after the Wolf of Wall Street was released, we had a conversation about the movie and he very casually dropped that he actually worked for Jordan Belfort. One morning, he told me a story that was not in the movie, but probably could have been: at the end of each day, Jordan would line up all the salespeople and find who was among the 3 worst for that day. One of those 3 was fired on the spot every day and then was easily replaced the next day. After figuring out who was fired, there was a mad rush over cubicles to get the fired salesperson’s binder of leads. Some of the bets and challenges to have access to the books were absolutely incredible.
How accurate is Hollywood in portraying Wall Street. I have to hand it to them, if the stories I’ve heard are true, they got it spot on.