The light refracting off the hair gel and shiny suits of an audience of City boys – and some girls – was nearly as bright as the personality that bounded on to the stage at Excel London before Christmas, the real ‘Wolf of Wall Street’, Jordan Belfort.
A certain fascination drew me and 3,000 or so others to come and hear from a man who’s life, by his own admission, had been completely out of control, as he earned, and then lost, millions of dollars.
Jordan Belfort’s film story and book have probably grossed more than he did as a stockbroker (US$300m+) , and that is saying something. Clearly, putting on events with VIP speakers is a rich seam. Add in the theme of ‘how to get rich quick’ and the organiser is on to a winner.
For those who haven’t seen the film with Leonardo Di Caprio in the Belfort role, or read the book, Belfort went from a junior stock trader at a major Wall Street firm, to being made redundant and then hawking penny shares in a boiler room operation that grew into a huge money-making operation that launched ‘The Wolf’ to dizzying heights of riches and notoriety.
The roller-coaster lifestyle plunged Belfort into some despairing depths, as his life collapsed under the pressures and vices acquired along the way.
There is nothing America likes – and also the UK judging by the demand to see and hear Belfort live – than a redemption story. And Excel London was the latest stop in a world tour with programme organiser Success Resources involving the Wolf and his pack of friends to dispense get-rich-quick advice and tell a few good stories, albeit without the style of Martin Scorsese. And what budding City whizz kid would not want to pick the brains of the master manipulator?
Success Resources has built a business model around the magnetism of Belfort and a stable of motivational speakers and other shooting stars from the financial firmament.
If we were in any doubt that the Wolf had shed his clothing, the stampede of City boys rushing to sign up to the programme, as Jordan Belfort’s ‘Special Guests’ ‘closed’ his sales pitch for courses and books, was evidence of the mastery at work still.
The day brought more stories from the currency trading floor from Greg Secker, who followed up Belfort’s shock and awe to sell the dream by way of special currency trading courses – of course only for the first 50 out of their seats armed with £1,995.
Public speaking expert Andy Harrington was third on stage and ‘on message’ in his home town with some strong psychology around effective presentation skills. His evangelical style would be transferable to any good Southern Baptist church gathering and was a study in hitting the buzzwords.
The whole Success Resources package of speakers was delivered to a well-polished script, although one suspects any riches gained for the few would be funded from the pockets of the remaining 99 per cent of audience and their ilk.
Michael Burnett, Director of Success Resources, told CN the programme format now ranged from multi-day single speaker workshops, through to the ‘smorgasboard’ highlights packages like the Excel event.
“Such events enable us to get out to the audience and build a client base. Visitors can come for a relatively low entry price,” Burnett added, noting that Richard Branson and Donald Trump have spoken at Success Resources events in the past.
So where are the best markets for the Success Resources product?
“The world is getting smaller, but Eastern Europe and South America are our biggest growth areas, along with China,” said Burnett, who noted the income stream came equally from the courses and products sold, alongside pure ticket sales.
“The model works beyond the day itself which is the entry point only,” he pointed out.
Excel Senior Account Manager Jamie Ades has been working with Success Resources on its London events for a while and explains that the agency hosts, on average, five a year at the venue, ranging from 800 to 6,000 delegates.
“The biggest event that they host with us is ‘Tony Robbins – Unleash the Power Within’, which takes place every March for 6,000 delegates,” Addes said. Robbins for those who haven’t seen or heard him, is somewhat of a guru in this business.
“Motivational events have always been an important part of the overall events mix at Excel London,” Ades explained. “In the last 12-months, we have doubled the number of events held in this sector and hope this is a trend that will continue into 2015 and beyond.”
So what are the challenges specific to this kind of event?
“To ensure that we understand the specific requirements of whichever international speaker is headlining and make sure that we tailor the experience to their specific needs.”
Success Resources has fire walks as part of one of its regular shows and Burnett says an experienced venue is required for that. No fire this time at Excel, but Ades and Health & Safety have it covered.
Burnett and his travelling staff practically live in the air bringing 500 events a year to a succession of destinations.
The team arrived in London from Amsterdam, and post-Excel the show moved on to Chicago, Atlanta, Ho Chi Minh City, Chennai. Jordan Belfort is touring 100 cities.
“People’s motivations are global, and human needs are the same,” Burnett noted. “Emerging markets want the opportunities we’ve long had in the West. People are upskilling now and our programmes reflect that by providing that training.”
Excel’s role in this kind of programme extends to supporting the basic marketing campaign with activities including promotion via its website and social media; ticket promotions, networking opportunities with local partners and regional PR.
Are there any pitfalls for a venue in staging these kind of events?
“It’s important to understand the diversity of the audience these type of events attract,” said Ades. “For example, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ welcomes delegates ranging from City traders to entrepreneurs starting their own business. Therefore, I would encourage organisers to think about the broad appeal of the content. These events are attracting a growing audience and the venue should be easily accessible and offer flexible space, which can cater for potentially large numbers.”
Is there an inner wolf inside of Jamie Ades trying to get out, I wondered, as I suppress an urge to leap on the stage and sign over £1,995 for a short course in becoming a successful currency trader?
Asked for his own ‘Wolf’ moment in sales, Ades said he was most proud of bringing The World Scrabble Championship to the venue in November 2014, with 100 international competitors and the world’s press.
Now, why didn’t Jordan Belfort stick to scrabble? With that kind of mathematical brain, he could have been a champion and surely avoided a stretch in prison. The world would have been a duller place, however, and 3,000 people would not have paid top dollar to hear a motivational speech from a world scrabble champion.
CN Q&A with Jordan Belfort
Referencing films such as Wolf of Wall Street and Boiler Room, some buyers quote them to ‘front foot’ style sales as a defence mechanism. For example: ‘Sorry, I’ve seen Wolf of Wall Street, I don’t trust your pitch!’ How would you recommend combating your own legacy?
Although Boiler Room and Wolf of Wall Street are fun movies with an element of truth, they are movies and not how my system is truly used. The Straight Line System is not a ‘pitch’ but intended to be an ethical and scientific method of persuasion with definite skill sets, which need to be mastered, for effective use.
What are the five main characteristics you look for when employing sales staff?
First would be someone who would never consider taking short cuts or doing things in an unethical way. Second, the desire to work hard. I am amazed at how few people are willing to work hard. Third would be adaptability. So many people get stuck in a ‘way things should be done’ mentality. Fourth, would be high standards. And, lastly, a positive attitude enabling them to take rejection well.
The brokering of shares is predominantly done on the phone or online, whereas the events industry is all about face to face. How do techniques vary?
Many things line up the same, whether it be over the phone or face to face. You need to be aware of the customer’s needs as well as have all other aspects of the Straight Line System lined up. The only thing that differs would be body language, a big influencer in face-to-face deals. When dealing with someone over the phone tonality takes on even more importance than when you don’t have body language to go along with it.
Which deal has given you most satisfaction and which the most regrets?
The deal I regret the most is the first time I ever stepped over the ethical line. It is a slippery slope once you take that step. The one I feel best about? There are so many. I love empowering people and helping large companies to massively increase their revenues, as well as helping small ‘mom and pop’ industries take off bigger than they ever dreamed.
This was first published in the January issue of CN. Any comments? Email Paul Colston