Stories of successes and failures on Wall Street can be relevant for many in Vietnam. Photos: Bloomberg
Vietnam apparently can’t get enough of Jordan Belfort — the real “Wolf of Wall Street” who has been made famous, or infamous, by a movie about his rise and fall in the financial world starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
At least that’s my impression when I spoke with Nguyen Thu Huong of DVH Bransons, which has brought him to Vietnam for the second time within less than seven months.
The company invited Belfort over to Hanoi in November to talk to a group of 700 businesspeople and fans and “it was a great success in terms of both the turnout for the quickly prepared event and the positive responses afterwards," Huong said, speaking by phone from her office in Hanoi.
During our short conversation, Huong talked feverishly about this weekend's "boot camp” with Belfort in Ho Chi Minh City, making the best out of what was clearly a well-practiced speech.
“The three-day course is part of his world tour so you can expect him to talk about his famous persuasion techniques just like he did in other countries, but in greater details this time,” she said. "He will also discuss business ethics and how to use his methods to sell almost anything in the most ethical way."
I couldn’t help but stop her there to ask about the possible irony of somebody like Belfort teaching others about ethics.
“We are aware of his story of successes and failures. And in fact we want more Vietnamese to know about how he has redeemed himself and turned his life around."
Just a quick recap: Belfort is known as a millionaire stockbroker who used powerful persuasion tactics to swindle millions of US dollars out of investors in a so-called “pump and dump” scheme over penny stocks.
Jordan Belfort has been invited twice to Vietnam to speak to local audiences.
Since his release from prison in 2006, Belfort has made some restitution payments to victims of his fraud scheme.
The US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York declined to comment on questions regarding Belfort’s restitution payments or the proceeds and fees he has been receiving.
But according to a Wall Street Journal report last year, prosecutors gave “poor reviews” to the amount he had paid to his victims, as compared to his earnings from books sales and movie royalties.
Many other reports from the US media have portrayed Belfort in a consistently negative light, questioning his self-centered story of redemption and mocking his new role as a motivational speaker.
But in Vietnam, an overall amicable press has hardly posed a challenge to him. His book was reprinted only a few months after it first hit local shelves last fall. The glamorous Hollywood movie, combined with some transferred affection for DiCaprio, also means that Belfort is more likely to be greeted with admiration than animosity.
So it's no surprise why DVH Bransons decided to shell out US$400,000, or so it claimed, to bring Belfort back.
The company believed the man has mass appeal, pointing out that many in Vietnam — from CEOs and managers to small business owners and students — can find something useful from his persuasion methods to achieve great wealth and success.
That’s perhaps true.
According to a Pew Research Center survey last year, a whopping 94 percent of Vietnamese think the next generation will be financially better off than their parents, the highest rate among all emerging economies.
There’s a growing market in Vietnam for business tips and getting-rich lessons. Display of wealth, once frowned upon, has become more common as rich people are highly regarded.
While many Vietnamese are not familiar with Gordon Gekko, his "Greed is good” philosophy would not sound too out of place here these days.
Stories of scams and frauds abound in the media, offering a multitude of cautionary tales of people who want to get rich quickly, and people who are exploited because they want to get rich quickly.
Professor Gael McDonald, president of RMIT University Vietnam, has summed up perfectly about the need to embed ethics into the business culture in Vietnam, as in other countries.
"There is always a desire for wealth, however this should not be confused with being inappropriate or unethical. One can pursue wealth generation with considerable success.
“It is how this wealth has been generated that is the critical question."
In her book “Business Ethics: A Contemporary Approach," Professor McDonald has recommended readers to watch “Wolf of Wall Street” the movie.
"Mr Belfort is certainly someone who we can learn from," she said.
"Clearly there were numerous opportunities where he had choices and decisions were made. It is no doubt regrettably that some of these decisions were bad ones and were unethical.”
There are indeed many things that can be taken out of the indelible story of Belfort — be it tenacity, greed, redemption or ethics. It's personal how one chooses to see it.
But a ticket to see Belfort in Vietnam this weekend costs up to $1,200, so hopefully the audience gets exactly what they want for their money.
* Editor's note: The view is personal and does not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Thanh Nien News.
UPDATE: A source who requested anonymity told Thanh Nien News on Monday that the event was canceled at last minute, affecting many attendees who had traveled afar. DVH Bransons has confirmed that the three-day course has to be postponed and the company is working to reschedule it.