Nobody ever accused Jerry Levin of missing a good opportunity. With Wall Street in crisis and corporate executives everywhere fretting, the mastermind behind the disastrous AOL-Time Warner merger put out a press release this week launching new "executive resilience summits" at Moonview Sanctuary, the high-end treatment center he now runs with his wife, psychologist Laurie Ann Levin, in Santa Monica, Calif. Asserting that executives are "facing possibly the toughest times in their careers," the pitch introduced workshops that would help beleaguered corporate brass seeking to "bounce back from this crisis while maintaining balance in their professional and personal lives." The price for the three-day stay with one-on-one training: $15,000. Moonview is, however, offering a lower group rate for six or more executives: $1,000 per person per day.
Levin insists that his new "experiential workshops" aren't just targeting executives beleaguered by the recent downturn. He says that would "be too opportunistic." Rather, he says he's targeting CEOs or high-level executives who are "operating 24 hours a day and need an inner core of purpose so they can deal with the inevitable slings and arrows that come their way." The program, which he says was in development before the current economic crisis came to a head, is an extension of Moonview's core regimens for chemical dependency, chronic-pain management and personal crisis. Moonview typically caters to a wealthy clientele willing to pay anywhere from several thousand dollars for short-term treatments to a yearlong program costing $175,000. "We didn't anticipate Hank Paulson's drive to save the world," says Levin.
What do the executives get at the one-, two- or three-day seminars? The "summits" are a mix of role-playing, personality testing, lectures and interactive group sessions that Levin says teaches hard-charging executives to understand the toll that relentless overachievement takes on their health and their personal lives. Another tool: hooking the execs to biofeedback devices that help "show that your emotional responses have an effect on your body," he says.
And the executives get lots of face time with Levin himself, who offers up his own story of transformation as a guide. As a high-flying CEO, he orchestrated the largely successful union of the Time Inc. and Warner empires. To the world, he was one of the most powerful media moguls in America. But Levin now says he was actually an "automated machine" laboring relentlessly in "a 24-hour isolation booth." He says he saw his mistakes only after being ousted after the failed AOL-Time Warner merger, splitting with his previous wife, moving to California and launching a personal "journey" of self-discovery. "I'm putting my life experience out there to help others," says Levin, 69, who adds he is not a licensed therapist and leaves that work to trained colleagues.
As Levin waits for clients to sign up, not everyone is favorably impressed. New York Times business columnist Joe Nocera wrote on his blog that the press release neglected to mention that Levin's chief "credential … is having personally survived masterminding the worst merger in the last 30 years ... If he can come back, anyone can."
For his part, Levin sees more in the zeitgeist than short-term fear. It's not just the hard times. He believes executives are "more open now than before" to nontraditional ideas. "There is something in the air that says to me the need is so great," he says. He'll soon find out if he's right.