The Tame Truth About the Wolves of Wall Street

Guy Billout

Maybe it's those five Oscar nominations for “The Wolf of Wall Street,” including for best picture, best director and best actor, but we seem to be in another of those moments in popular culture when Hollywood plies us with skewed answers about how Wall Street miscreants caused so much mayhem. We have seen this movie before: The genre owes much to the director Oliver Stone’s original “Wall Street,” which played off the excesses of the 1980s and was released just after the crash of 1987, when the Dow Jones industrial average fell 22.6 percent on a single October day. But more recent grist for the mill has been provided by “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” “Margin Call” and “Arbitrage.” Jordan Belfort, the antihero of “The Wolf of Wall Street,” played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is a direct descendant of Mr. Stone’s creation, Gordon Gekko — he of the maxim, “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”

As a cautionary tale of a repeat cycle of greed that led to our latest bubble and bust, “The Wolf of Wall Street” is quite a portrait that the director Martin Scorsese has painted for us. There are the quaaludes and the mounds of cocaine, the prostitutes and the Hamptons mansions, the substance-fueled orgies and the fast cars, the deceit and criminality, and yes, the greed and — did I mention the quaaludes? It’s all wildly entertaining — even if, technically, the business model depicted in Mr. Scorsese’s film is fairly remote from any actual or even figurative Wall Street bank: In the “boiler room operation” located at a Long Island strip mall, barely qualified salesmen pressured the naïve into buying highly risky stocks of marginal companies.

I can sympathize with Mr. Scorsese’s problem. Can you imagine the box office bomb that would have resulted had he chosen a scenario in which Mr. DiCaprio played a recent Ivy League graduate poring over an Excel spreadsheet at 2 a.m.?

But it’s not only Hollywood that is marketing lurid depictions of a Wall Street culture prone to the most flagrant of moral lapses. Last month, we learned that “J. T. Stone,” the pseudonym for the assumed Goldman Sachs banker behind the satirical “@GSElevator” Twitter feed (619,000 followers and counting), had inked a deal for “Straight to Hell: True Tales of Deviance and Excess in the World of Investment Banking.” Mr. Stone’s tell-all book promises to reveal “a world that is far more abhorrent, and yet, way more entertaining than people can imagine.” 

But do these portrayals bear any relation to quotidian life in the salt mines of high finance?

My 17 years’ experience on Wall Street, mostly spent as a mergers and acquisitions banker at Lazard, Merrill Lynch and JPMorgan Chase, where I was a managing director, admittedly ended a decade ago, but it could not have been more different from what these popular-culture sensations would have us believe about working in finance. (True, I never worked at a bucket shop like Stratton Oakmont — the two-bit brokerage started by Jordan Belfort, the author of the memoir adapted by Mr. Scorsese as “The Wolf.” Nor did I ever work on a trading desk at Goldman Sachs, so perhaps I missed the raucous and ribald workplace that Mr. Stone is intent on portraying.)

My Wall Street was an endless-seeming succession of late nights, ruled by the demands of clients and bosses. An investment banking crisis, in my world, was when a surly senior banker would finally deign to look at a client presentation the night before it was due. The ensuing tirade would require me and my team to pull all-nighters to make the changes she or he demanded.

Mine, too, was the glamour of a red-eye flight to a European capital to meet with the executives of a large corporation. There was no time for sleep because of the inevitable fiddling with the presentation. I remember biting the inside of my lip to stay awake in those late-afternoon meetings. 


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commented 2014-02-17 13:09:30 -0500 · Flag
Tom writes:

This is Yet another Ass-Clown’s attempt at self-aggrandizement (hi I played the game from the inside) he is a complete, corrupt tool: his statement:
The allocation of capital is not, as a rule, sexy. But the way capital becomes available to start new companies or to allow existing ones to expand and hire new workers is vital for our collective wealth as a society. That is Wall Street’s untold tale: the crucial and economically beneficial role capital markets play.
is something out of a contrived Penn undergraduate class in Finance, hey delusional fool,
the role of Capitalism that you attempt to perpetuate sailed in Merchant Banking era of 1960 / 1970 Wall street is Nothing more than a gaming operation Designed to Separate the Public from their Money, In Conclusion, I’d have to say they have been Masterful, No jail time, they still have their game and every day they create more converts to their 1-dimensional world in the belief that you to have a chance to Win, You have to be in It, to Win It.

Please, this babble is about as pedestrian & common as it gets, this Guy (the author) couldn’t even shine Bud Fox’s shoes to a high polish with the level of mediocrity he has penned here and that is the True Revelation of Wall Street’s Miscreants, they are Mediocrity personified they would be sub-standard workers in any other business, enterprise or Profession, the Only thing they have Excelled at is the faustian bargain: Take the Money and Keep Your Mouth Shut and in the ultimate game of perversion,
that passes for today’s society, They are Celebrated !