The Wolf Of Wall Street is about you - 10th Jan 2014

Smiling mighty from movie posters everywhere, the “Wolf of Wall Street”, looks down on us victorious and very attractive indeed. Whereas the glorification of excess and crime has its obvious dangers, the real Achilles’ heel of the film lays bare at the start of the story. It’s obvious for everyone to see, but few notice it.

The new Scorsese film tells the story of Jordan Belfort, an archetypical stockbroker who earned millions in the nineties on the stock market. We are made to believe this story is a true one. Belfort was convicted of fraud, stock market manipulation and running a so called penny stock boiler room. He spent time in jail but saw that cut down after he struck a deal with the authorities by telling on those he had lured into doing as he did. He is earning a great deal of money now selling and telling his story, but is mostly failing to pay the negotiated restitution.

At the start of the story we see him on his first working day. His new boss takes him out to a fancy restaurant and orders a range of drinks as they sit down, drinks to be served every five minutes. Belfort says that he will stick to water. “It’s his first day on Wall Street,” his boss jokes to the waiter, “he will learn quickly enough!” The movie is based on one of many autobiographies Belfort wrote in jail and which are best sellers. Through this opening scene, Belfort manipulates the audience into believing that he was a poor victim, that he started off all innocent and that others led him astray. I for one, refuse to believe that.

Obviously I don’t know Jordan Belfort myself. I cannot and would not therefore diagnose and label the man. But we must be vigilant and accept the possibility that he is probably a psychopath. In fact, we learn through the court cases and his own books that he spent his life cheating, stealing, manipulating, breaking the law. He did all that with no understanding of the fact he was making victims. I see in the opening scene another attempt of a potential psychopath to manipulate us to think that he is at heart an honest man. It would be naive of us the audience to accept that. It makes us all the victim of his manipulations. He’s just at it again. It is the equivalent of Lance Armstrong telling Oprah: “I have lied all my live, but now you have to believe me.” You are an idiot if you do.  If we want to create real change in how business is done, if we seek a more ethical capitalism, it will be up to all of us to see through the ways of these wolfs. It will be up to us to stop being sheepish.

It is well documented that in the business world, and more specifically the financial world, psychopaths were thriving. This world drew them in like a magnet, they made it to the top and they managed to force their ways and culture upon the companies they worked for and led.

The glorification of such types is not new. “Wall Street’s” Gordon Gekko and even American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman have functioned as role models for ambitious, ruthless people. With the “Wolf of Wall Street”, this is happening again. Despite the fact it appears to go wrong at the end of this story, many audience members will be dazzled by the millions, the hookers, the parties and mostly by the main characters sense of being a winner. Real life villains become attractive scoundrels; many remember only the good bits. And they dream of becoming as rich as the guys they’ve seen on the screen.

Just as we are recovering from the deep global crisis these types have caused, again a new psychopathic role model is put forward. The movie doesn’t show that Belfort’s a million dollar a week salary was money that indirectly came from our – and our parents’ - retirement-funds. Maybe the movie should have shown in continues split screen the millions of people that lost their houses and other investments because of amoral behaviours a few. The could have shown the senior citizens who worked hard all their lives but now live in poverty because they handed over their savings to bankers who promised them healthy and assured profits but ended up with pennies. We don’t get to see the victims in these movies. They are in fact sitting in the cinema seats, not knowing they are the victims and maybe even dreaming of the life they see on the screen, But because of the so-called winners they see on the screen, glorified an mystified, the viewers around the world barely make any interest on their savings accounts any more.

It is the winners that dictate us that we need to adore them, whether it’s Lance Armstrong or Jordan Belfort, whether it’s the high earning CEO or football player. They are the ones putting peer pressure on all of society that being competitive is a good thing. Maybe we need to rethink competiveness itself.

©Peter Sioen, 10/01/2014

Thatcher Teachings - 17th April 2013

(Dutch version below; Nederlandse versie hieronder)

Today Margaret Thatcher’s funeral is held, not in Westminster Abbey, the church next to Parliament, but in Saint-Paul’s, the Cathedral in The City, the square mile. Her funeral comes 20 years after Thatcherism was declared dead. But the impact of her policy can still be felt throughout the UK and the rest of Europe today in ways we don’t realise.

At her first election in 1979 she found an economic ruin. The United Kingdom had become the weak link in Europe. British products were avoided worldwide, deemed low quality. The British economy lay flat completely at times. Thatcher’s voters had gone through a winter of strikes without services, work or electricity. Children made their homework by candle light. Many senior citizens died of cold; but barely any gravediggers were found willing to bury them. Thatcher addressed the situation head on. She prided herself on being hard, very hard. She may have saved the British economy from bankruptcy, but at a price. And that price is still being paid today, and not in the UK alone. Her approach had winners but many losers, still today.

She embraced and protected the financial world and lifted regulations. As a result The City boomed, driven by short term superprofits. But she set them free when they crashed in 1986 and saved them with money and her deregulation was free license. As such Thatcher instigated the “anything is allowed and possible” feeling that reigned over The City from then on and which drove other financial centres to behave in the same way. It is that evaporation of ethical and moral boundaries that has led to the financial crises starting in 2008. Those crises are hitting many people much harder than the 1986 one. So, the position Thatcher took in the eighties has an impact today on our bank accounts and certainly on our saving accounts and other financial investments. And also on our shrinking pension funds. Because mass profits for a few can’t happen without losses for a few or very many others.

The grocer’s daughter worked her way up to the top and helped create this new-Victorian idea of upper class, causing a rift in society. She fought hard and ruthlessly to get to the top and considered herself as such the sole role model. Thus she still has an influence on today’s hard and tough style of competing in professional arenas. The economic elite, those with astronomical wages and bonuses, populated her world whilst more and more people failed to make ends meet. She was the longest running Prime Minister so far and the only female Prime Minister of the UK. But in all her nearly 12 years in office and in three consecutive governments, she appointed only one female minister. No Prime Minister since the Second World War appointed less female ministers. As such she stood in the way of a widening of professional happiness and diversity. We are still working hard today to resolve that.

Mines were closed, but thirty years on too little jobs were created for the people who were sent off with benefits. Two or three generations later, children still grow up without perspective on a job and without the example of work ethic. CEO’s worldwide still adore here for the way she silenced unions. But the United Kingdom she is leaving behind is a country of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. It is the ‘haves’ that get noticed around the world and frustrate people, even on average incomes, making them feel like they don’t possess enough and want more.

She left the United Kingdom a lot less united than she found it. The EU is still reeling from her attitude, but she didn’t reserve that for Europe alone. She alienated the Northern Irish and the Scottish. The latter might be voting for independence next year.

The special relationship she enjoyed with Ronald Reagan still lives on in the British-American tandem that tries to control world politics. “When Ronnie and I ruled the world …” was one of her favourite remarks during her dinners with the elite that continued to be her dinner guests long after she was forced out of number 10.

She didn’t keep it a secret that of all her nicknames, Iron Lady was her favourite. Iron is hard; too hard maybe. It is cold. And it rusts. Sometimes slowly.

[Peter Sioen - career & management coach and psychologist in the City of London, author and international TV, radio & news media commentator and author of the management book Superyou]

Thatcher Teachings – hoe Thatcher nog steeds jouw leven bepaalt - 17 april 2013

Vandaag wordt de begrafenis van Margaret Thatcher gehouden. Niet in Westminster Abbey, de kerk van het Parlement, maar in Saint-Paul’s, de kathedraal in The City. De begrafenis komt 20 jaar nadat het Thatcherisme dood is verklaard. Maar de impact van haar beleid voelen wij ook vandaag nog; dat leeft, zelfs in België, Nederland en de rest van Europa.

Bij haar eerste verkiezing in ’79 trof ze een economische puinhoop. Het Verenigd Koninkrijk lag op zijn achterwerk; het was het zwakke broertje van de Westerse wereld. Britse producten werden wereldwijd vermeden. In het VK zelf lag de economie soms helemaal plat. Thatchers kiezers hadden een stakingswinter doorstaan zonder diensten, werk of elektriciteit. Kinderen deden huiswerk bij kaarslicht. Voor de velen bejaarden die stierven van de kou vond men geen werkwillige grafdelvers. Tegen die situatie is Margaret Thatcher hard in gegaan, zeer hard. Daarmee heeft ze de Britse economie misschien van een ondergang gered. Maar dat kwam tegen een prijs, voelbaar tot ver over de landsgrenzen. Haar aanpak had winnaars maar ook heel veel verliezers, tot vandaag.

Ze heeft de Britse financiële wereld in de armen genomen en een hand boven het hoofd gehouden. En schrapte regelgeving die die sector in goede banen en onder controle moet houden. Daarmee kende The City een echte boom, gedreven door korte termijn woekerwinsten. Maar ze heeft ze ook vrijgeleides gegeven en toen ze in ’86 crashten. Ze heeft hen vrijgekocht. Ze heeft hen geld gegeven en nog meer gederugaliseerd. Daarmee heeft Margaret Thatcher mee de toon gezet voor een “alles kan, alles” mag cultuur in de Britse bankenwereld die wereldwijd is overgeslagen. Het is die ethische en morele normvervaging, die ons globaal naar de crisissen van 2008 en daarna geleid heeft. En die crisissen komen voor velen nog een stuk harder aan dan die van ’86. Dus Margaret Thatcher heeft door haar opstelling van toen, vandaag nog een impact op onze bankrekeningen vandaag, maar vooral op onze spaarboekjes en andere beleggingen. En dus ook op onze krimpende gemeente- en pensioenkassen. Want woekerwinsten voor enkelen gaan niet zonder kleine en grote verliezen bij vele anderen.

Als kruideniersdochter die zich opwerkte heeft ze mee het nieuw-Victoriaanse idee van een professionele upperclass uitgebouwd, en zo een kloof in de maatschappij geslagen. Ze had zich hard en hardvochtig naar de top gewerkt en vond zichzelf daardoor het enige rolmodel. Een kleine incrowd feestte mee terwijl steeds meer mensen uit de boot vielen. Daarmee bepaalt Thatcher ook mee tot op de dag van vandaag de keiharde competitieve stijl in de bedrijfswereld. De grote heren met de hoge lonen en astronomische bonussen bevolkten haar wereld. Als enige vrouwelijke Britse Premier heeft ze zelf slechts een één vrouwelijke minister aangeduid in de bijna twaalf jaar waarin ze drie opeenvolgende regeringen heeft geleid. Daarmee heeft ze verbreding van werkgeluk en diversiteit in de weg gestaan, iets waar we vandaag nog hard aan werken om dat opgelost te krijgen.

Mijnen werden gesloten maar dertig jaar later zijn daar nog geen nieuwe jobs. De mensen werden met een uitkeringetje in het riet gestuurd, en twee, drie generaties later groeien hun kinderen en kleinkinderen nog steeds op zonder uitzicht op werk. Zonder gevoel voor werkethiek mee te krijgen. Bedrijfsleiders overal ter wereld adoreren haar nog steeds omwille van de manier waarop ze de vakbonden heeft klein gekregen. Het Verenigd Koninkrijk dat ze achterliet is verdeeld in “haves” and have “nots”. En het zijn de “haves” die internationaal in de kijker lopen en zelfs mensen met modale inkomens frustreren omdat ze voelen dat ze niet genoeg hebben en meer willen.

Ze heeft dat United Kingdom ook een stuk minder United achtergelaten dan ze het vond. Haar eigengereide Engelse houding, gestuurd door dat typisch Engelse (niet Britse!) meerderwaardigheidsgevoel, bewaarde ze niet enkel voor Europa, dat daar nog van nahijgt. Ze vervreemde ook de Noord-Ieren en de Schotten ermee. Die laatsten stemmen volgend jaar misschien voor onafhankelijkheid.

De speciale relatie die ze had met Reagan, leeft nog steeds voort in de Brits-Amerikaanse tandem die globaal de internationale politiek probeert te bepalen. “When Ronnie and I ruled the world …” was een van haar favoriete opmerkingen tijdens haar dinners met de elite nadat ze was buiten gebonjourd uit Number 10.

Ze maakte er geen geheim van dat van alle koos-en bijnamen die ze kreeg, Iron Lady haar favoriete was. IJzer is hard; misschien te hard. Het is koud. En het roest. Soms langzaam. 

[Peter Sioen - career & management coach and psychologist in the City of London, author and international TV, radio & news media commentator and author of the management book Superyou]

Superjij: Release and March Media Roundup - 28th Mar 2013

March has been a very special month for me, as my book Superyou went on general release in Belgium and the Netherlands (in Dutch “Superjij”); published by renowned publisher De Bezige Bij. It was welcomed with excitement and very positive feedback. The media-reaction was overwhelming:

Unfortunately, aforementioned articles in the written press are all still behind paying walls, but should be available to everyone in the next few months.

More articles are in the pipeline, for instance in specialised magazine Psychologies and current affairs weekly magazine Knack.

As it was book week in the Netherlands last week, we decided to focus on April for promo over there. A first interview, for the largest Dutch paper, het NRC Handelsblad, a newspaper of outstanding quality, will be recorded shortly. Other media appearances have been booked for mid-April.

Superjij is available in all major outlets as well as online http://www.wpg.be/boeken/overzicht/isbn/9789085424505/

[Peter Sioen - career & management coach and psychologist in the City of London, author and international TV, radio & news media commentator and author of the management book Superyou]

On Cyprus - 27th Mar 2013

The Cyprus economy has been over-reliant on its banks. Five years into the global banking crisis, it is unacceptable that it was allowed to go into such dire straits. You would think that financial controllers would be more vigilant, having learned from bank collapses and revelations of evaporating moral and ethics. Moreover, Cyprus is closely linked to Greece: So Europe’s central bank should have been vigilant and should have started clearing up the Cyprus mess five years ago or else on the cusp of Greece’s problems.

So another fire needs to be extinguished with bureaucrat top-to-bottom measures coming from a distant, cold Brussels. The plans are obviously not supported at grassroots level in hot Cyprus. Small, far, nicely tucked away near the Middle East and closely allied to Russia, I fear Cyprus may be sacrificed as a test case. As a tax haven for rich Russians, it is not any different than the Channel Islands for the Brits. Worrying is that people’s savings all over Europe no longer feel safe. Saving accounts should be the one reliable investment, a corner stone of banking for the people. It should be restored in its pre-86 glory, not eroded.

In most European languages, solidarity is a word. It is not heard much these days.

(written by request of the Evening Standard 25/3/2013)

[Peter Sioen - career & management coach and psychologist in the City of London, author and international TV, radio & news media commentator and author of the management book Superyou]