Monday, August 17, 2009

Making money off Bernie!

Laughing off a Madoff loss
August 17, 2009
KENYON WALLACE, Staff Reporter
Matt Weinstein charges $10,000 to talk about being undone in a Ponzi scheme. (VINCE TALOTTA/TORONTO STAR)

It turns out there is life after Bernie Madoff.
Case in point: Matt Weinstein and his wife Geneen Roth, who lost their entire life savings in the Ponzi scheme run by the disgraced former financier. The couple saw their retirement fund, built over 30 years, plummet from seven figures to four in a single day.
For someone who lost so much, Weinstein is incredibly chipper. But it took a while.
"You can't imagine what a shock this was," says Weinstein, who is speaking this morning during the American Society of Association Executives convention at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
Already a well-known public speaker as the founding president of Playfair Inc., an international consulting company that shows organizations how to have more fun at work, Weinstein has turned his hard luck into a lucrative venture: he normally gives about 30 speeches a year at $10,000 a pop. And Roth recently signed a deal with Viking to write a book entitled Losing Everything.
In the months following Madoff's arrest in December 2008, Weinstein began a journey of introspection that led him to come to terms with his misfortune.
"What Bernie Madoff Couldn't Steal From Me" is the product of that soul-searching – a part motivational speech, part comedy performance that aims to impress upon people that it is possible to find happiness in the face of great loss.
The silver-haired, unassuming Weinstein recounts the odd circumstances leading up to the moment he learned of his life-changing news.
"It was December 11, 2008. I was on vacation in Antarctica when I got a page from the icebreaker I was on to go up to the bridge to take a satellite phone call. I started running because these phone calls cost $10 a minute," says Weinstein, 60.
"When I pick it up, it's my wife and I knew it was not going to be good news. She said, 'Bernie Madoff's been arrested and his entire fund is a scam.
"We realized at that point that we were no longer the kind of people who could afford to talk on a satellite phone," he says with a laugh.
In June, Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison after admitting to defrauding thousands of investors of almost $65 billion.
"He seemed rock solid. We'd been investing with him for over 10 years. People in our circles would use the word `Madoff' like they used the word 'bank.' "
Weinstein says his professional experience teaching people about the value of laughter and play in the workplace helped him persevere.
"I knew right away that there was a chance to develop a talk and a theatrical piece about this. Working on that was a way of working through a lot of the pain," he says.
The product was an interactive speech and comedy routine about losing money but gaining a new appreciation for the things he has left.
Weinstein says the main message of his speech is simple: Everybody experiences misfortune. The question is how you deal with it.
"Long-term happiness is not about your bank account," he says. "Asking for support, asking for community ... it's about the kind of positive relationships you can make.
"We always have our eyes fixed on 'they have more money than me' or `if only I'd invested in this' but that's not what it's about.
"When all that's gone, there's still a lot left."


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