Romney: U.S. ‘not a kibbutz’


America is not a kibbutz, Mitt Romney said in a bid to underscore his commitment to individual liberties.

“It’s individuals and their entrepreneurship which have driven America,” the presumptive Republican presidential nominee said at a Chicago fundraiser Tuesday in remarks first reported by BuzzFeed. “What America is not (is) a collective where we all work in a kibbutz or we’re all in some little entity. Instead it’s individuals pursuing their dreams and building successful enterprises which employ others, and they become inspired as they see what has happened in the place they work and go off and start their own enterprises.”

Romney returned from a visit to Israel last week and praised the country’s culture as a critical element in boosting its economy.

Kibbutzim, although internally adhering to varying degrees of collective principles, long ago adjusted to interacting with Israel’s free-market economy.

Young entrepreneurs earn gelt for the community good


“We call these tchotchkes,” Keith Wasserman says, examining a snow globe. The 27-year-old founder and president of Gelt Inc. talks into a video camera as he walks around the furnished unit in a Bakersfield apartment complex, which the company purchased in 2009.

The video is featured on Gelt Inc.‘s YouTube channel, Gelt TV. In addition to videos, the company uses blogging to raise its profile and fulfill its commitment of transparency to its investors and clients.

“I’ve always been very entrepreneurial,” Wasserman said in an interview.

Gelt Inc., named for the Chanukah chocolate coins, wears its Judaism proudly and has made charitable giving an important part of its mission. In addition to Jewish charities, such as the Jewish Home, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, Gelt Inc. also supports charities that aid the communities it invests in, including Boys and Girls Clubs of Kern County and Court Appointed Special Advocates of Kern County.

The business plan for Wasserman’s San Fernando Valley-based company consists primarily of investing in 75-  to 500-unit distressed apartment complexes in California and Arizona and renovating them to add value before renting the units out to individuals and families. Founded in 2008 during the height of the recession, Gelt Inc. now owns 15 buildings, representing nearly 1,000 multifamily units.

Wasserman’s partners include Damian Langere, the company’s 31-year-old co-founder and Wasserman’s cousin, and Evan Rock, 26, its vice president. The three young professionals don’t have the purchasing power or the experience to pay for the buildings and run the business completely on their own; Gelt Inc. has investors. Wasserman and his partners take advantage of current low interest rates by borrowing from banks, and they brought aboard two “gray hairs,” Wasserman said, referring to Steve Wasserman, his father, a successful transactional attorney in Tarzana, and Adrian Goldstein, a 50-something commercial real estate maven.

“We have a good combination of youth and energy and new ideas, and we have Adrian and my dad, who bring the experience and wisdom,” said Wasserman, who grew up attending L.A. Jewish day schools.

Goldstein said that the members of the team complement each other, and he values the core members’ tech savvy.

“A lot of new technology for the business, new ways of communicating with our investors and with our consumers—whether it’s social media or new applications that help us keep track of our contractors, our bids, schedules—we have a seamless platform that is made all that much better by young people who grew up in the technology age,” Goldstein said.

Wasserman speaks excitedly about the way everyone works together. Rock is “more of our numbers guy—he oversees the new acquisitions, prices the deals, deals with the financing, the refinancing. … Damian, my cousin, he’s more on the ground, deals with the contractors, oversees the rehabs. … I’m more of the marketing, the networking and investor relations. Adrian oversees all of us, and he’s our mentor … and my dad just knows a lot of people.”

In April 2011, Gelt Inc. bought its largest building yet, a 415-unit, 257,000-square-foot apartment complex in Phoenix for $16 million. With the next acquisition, Gelt Inc. hopes to reach its milestone of owning more than 1,000 apartment units.

Wasserman said that the 2009 purchase of Vernon Vista, a 78-unit complex in Bakersfield, was the turning point for the company, which, for some time, had mainly acquired and renovated four-plexes, as opposed to larger complexes with dozens of units.

“It became more professional, more of a real business. We took it to the next level, going from $150,000 deals to $4 million deals,” Wasserman said.

The company’s rapid growth makes Wasserman hungry for more, and he’s thinking ahead—way ­ahead. Ten years from now, he would like to see the company running 10,000 units, with properties in Los Angeles as well as more in Phoenix.

Wasserman, who got his start running a successful eBay store out of his college apartment at USC, is serious about his commitment to his faith and using the business to serve the larger Jewish community.

“Going to a Jewish school since fifth grade”—he attended Stephen S. Wise Temple and Milken Community High School—“has really instilled in me a sense of pride about being Jewish. A lot of the organizations we support are Jewish organizations,” he said.

This love for the Jewish community also translates into support for pro-Israel organizations, including AIPAC, StandWithUs and the Israel Leadership Council.

Wasserman says he has heard complaints about the company name. His critics believe it feeds the stereotype of Jews “being money-hungry.”

He insists, however, that the name reinforces the company’s positive intentions.

“We want to have a platform of making money for the good,” he said.

Mega-millionaire, Age 95, Says, ‘You Can Do It!’


Mega-millionaire Stanley A. Dashew, 95, has some words of wisdom for anyone trying to make it in today’s tough economy: You can do it.

It’s no secret, he says. In fact, it’s the title of the book, “You Can Do It!: Inspiration & Lessons From an Inventor, Entrepreneur, & Sailor,” written with Josef S. Klus.

Filled with anecdotes and distilled wisdom, the book, by a man who played a key role in the creation of the plastic credit-card system, is the culmination of years of writing in between business projects.

“I spent the better part of the last decade trying to capture in the pages of my book the key events of my life in the hope that what I’ve learned in love and work may provide inspirations—and some guideposts—for others to realize that, yes, they can do it!” Dashew, a resident of Westwood, said in an e-mail interview.

One might not expect such optimism from a Harlem, N.Y., native whose father escaped deadly pogroms in Odessa as an infant. His mother settled in New York after her Orthodox father brought the family from Lithuania.

In some ways, the seeds of Dashew’s success were planted when his family moved from the big city to the country, where his father owned a small legal practice and summer resort. It was there in Pomona, N.Y., that Dashew became an inventor from a young age out of necessity.

“I came across serious problems that could not be solved by stock items,” he said. “For example, I had to figure out a way of getting fish out of a swimming pool. I had to figure out how to clean septic tanks attached to the bungalows of my family’s property.”

An aspiring writer, Dashew’s desired career path changed course with the Great Depression. One day, on the way to interview for a sales job that he was sure he’d turn down because he considered it beneath his talents, something changed his mind.

“I was walking in Manhattan toward Fifth Avenue when I heard a loud noise. I looked across the street to the Empire State Building, where I saw the body of a nicely dressed young man—about my age—on the sidewalk,” Dashew said. “He had just jumped from the world’s tallest building. I proceeded to my meeting somewhat numb, but no longer conflicted about the offer. I accepted the job.”

This sales job with Addressograph-Multigraph Corp., which produced machines that could address envelopes, magazines and more, turned out to be a perfect match. Soon, by adapting the company’s machines to new uses, he was its top salesman and poised for even greater success.

“The knowledge and contacts from my experience there became the foundation for my own company and my first fortune,” Dashew said.

That would come after he and his family—including his 7-year-old son and 3-month-old daughter—pursued the adventure of a lifetime. In 1949, they hopped onto a 76-foot schooner and sailed from Chicago, through the Great Lakes, down the East Coast, through the Panama Canal, and around to Los Angeles.

This would be his home as he created Dashew Business Machines. Its revolutionary imprinters and embossers could handle more than one character at a time and laid the groundwork for the first bank credit card system.

“We could emboss 2,000 plates an hour,” Dashew said. “This gave birth to the plastic credit-card industry.”

The machines, he continued, “enabled Bank of America to mass produce and distribute the BankAmericard, and they enabled merchants to imprint the card when customers made a purchase.”

Other enterprises followed, including work in the offshore oil industry. Over the years, Dashew has received 14 U.S. patents for his contributions to banking, shipping, mining, transportation, water purification and other areas.

This isn’t to say that it was easy. Before it could reach its greatest success, Dashew Business Machines nearly succumbed to financial collapse in the 1950s, and it cost Dashew his first marriage and his beloved boat.

Aside from telling his personal story, “You Can Do It!” includes dozens of tips to help readers overcome life’s modern—yet timeless—challenges. A few examples include:

  • Focus on just one or two ideas at a time. Otherwise, none of your ideas that could be great will get off the ground.
  • Don’t quit just because you don’t have all the skills or resources to implement an idea. Team up with someone who has what you lack.
  • Innovation means not just creating new products or services, but also finding new ways to utilize them.

A spiritual person and cultural Jew, Dashew said he contributes locally to Jewish Vocational Service and is a strong supporter of Israel. Outside the Jewish community, he and his second wife, Rita, who died in 1994, are well known for their involvement in the UCLA Dashew Center for International Students and Scholars, which aims to foster cross-cultural understanding through intellectual exchange.

Today, Dashew remains as busy as ever, developing ideas for new products and services despite the challenges of Parkinson’s disease. And while he calls a 4,000-square-foot penthouse home, he continues to be just as comfortable at sea on his eighth boat, a 72-foot cutter named Deerfoot II. To him, sailing is more than just a passion.

“I tend to see the people, places and events in my life—and the world—through the lens of the boats that I have owned and sailed through the years,” he said.  “My love of boats started when I was 10 years old with a canoe that I would use in the swimming pool of the summer camp that my family owned and managed. … Today, I’m still adventuring.”

Ice cream entrepreneur taps into the ‘spiritual aspect’ of business


After Ben Cohen and business partner Jerry Greenfield completed a course on ice cream making, they established their first ice cream shop in 1978 and went on to build Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream ­—a $300 million empire and one of the largest ice cream businesses in America. 

Choosing ice cream over bagels as their vehicle to prosperity, they initially lacked location. “We figured if it was going to be ice cream, it should be a warm, rural college town,” Cohen noted. But their analysis revealed that competition had already beaten them to the hot spots. “So we decided to throw out the criteria of warm and ended up in Burlington, Vt.,” where cold and snowy winters are legendary. Cohen still calls Burlington home.

Cohen, preferring social activism to the daily business grind— a throwback to his hippie youth— resigned as CEO in 1995 but continued to serve as board chair and then on the advisory board because he believes strongly that business has a “spiritual aspect” that should be recognized by the business world. “There is a spiritual aspect to business just as there is to the lives of individuals. As you give, you receive. As you help others, you’re helped in return,” Cohen asserted. He didn’t come to this conclusion overnight. Cohen’s business philosophy evolved as the company grew.

Ben & Jerry’s faced many early challenges. Banks were wary about financing those who lacked business experience, collateral and credit histories. To get a bank loan, they needed a business plan. Without knowing how to prepare one, they used a template for a pizza parlor that sold pizza by the slice, simply plugging in “ice cream cone” wherever “pizza slice” was mentioned, and got their initial seed money.

They broke even in their first year, but two years later, things started changing. According to Cohen, “We were at the very end of our rope and losing money … and finally, in a last-ditch effort to survive, we decided to pack our ice cream in pint containers,” which revolutionized their business in the 1980s.

Entering Boston, their first major U.S. market, nearly brought their business to an end. Häagen-Dazs, owned by Pillsbury, was fierce competition, and Ben & Jerry’s’ distributor wanted to drop the Vermont-based company as a client. Ben & Jerry’s quickly printed banners and flew them around major Boston sport stadiums, and rented signs on Boston transit buses that featured two pudgy hands squeezing a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, saying, “Don’t let Pillsbury’s dollars strangle Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. What’s the Doughboy afraid of?” 

This proved a successful act of chutzpah. “Pillsbury was getting such a black eye from their tactics of trying to keep us out of distribution that they relented and allowed us to continue distributing our ice cream,” Cohen said.  

Annual sales rose into the millions, and the two spent most of their time hiring, firing and meeting financial advisers. “We felt like we were becoming just another part of the economic machine that tends to oppress a lot of people,” Cohen lamented.

Then a friend told Cohen, “If there’s something you don’t like about business, why don’t you just change the way you do it?” For Cohen, this was genius. Venture capitalists wanted desperately to invest. “We decided to use this need for cash as an opportunity to make the community the owners of our business,” he recalled.

In an unusual move, they held the first in-state Vermont public stock offering, which made many Vermont residents part owners of the company. A national public stock offering followed, with the formal creation of the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation. The offering prospectus stated that the Foundation would be getting 7.5 percent of pre-tax profits, the highest amount of any publicly held company that gives to charity.

So many requests for help came in that only 5 percent of the applications could be funded, a common problem for foundations throughout the world.

How did Cohen react? He and Greenfield developed a new definition of business from “an entity that produces a product or provides a service” to “the combination of organized human energy, plus money, which equals power.” For Cohen, business was the strongest force in society, but unlike religion and government, whose purpose was to improve quality of life, “Business has never had that as part of its brief.”

Cohen believed that only if spiritual concerns are integrated with business, which possessed the resources to actually make a difference, could positive change happen.

He felt the very definition of success was an obstacle because it is measured “by profit, how much money is left over at the end of the month or at the end of the year.” Instead, Ben & Jerry’s decided to change the way success is measured by measuring success through a “two-part bottom line”—by how much the company has helped to improve quality of life in the community and how much money it has made. However, their managers had bad news: When company energy was devoted to improving the quality of life in the community, it took away from improving profits.

Cohen and Greenfield were astonished. They recognized that money is a means, not an end, but values combined with social purpose should be their focus, integrating social concerns with an eye on profits.

The company bought coffee from a Mexican cooperative, improving Mexican coffee farmers’ quality of life by purchasing their beans. It bought blueberries from a Native American tribe, which helped benefit them. It purchases $3 million worth of brownies annually from Greyston Bakery, which provides employment opportunities for those in need. Ben & Jerry’s recently committed to making all of its ingredients Fair Trade certified by the end of 2013.

According to Cohen, “Our actions are based on deeply held values, that it’s an integrated and holistic effort to meet another set of our customers’ needs—the need to solve the social problems of our day—and that it provides added value. It’s a unique selling proposition. It motivates our employees. It helps with recruiting, and it builds tremendous consumer loyalty that’s based on shared values.”

Cohen believes business should take responsibility for the common good rather than focus on self-interest. He believes that business, as a powerful social force, can integrate social concerns throughout its activities, while supporting service organizations in order to help people.

According to Cohen, “As your business supports the community, the community supports your business. We are all interconnected, and as we help others, we cannot avoid helping ourselves.”


Arthur Wolak is a Vancouver-based freelance writer.

Entrepreneurial spirit


Let’s hear it for lemonade stands!

Forty-two percent of entrepreneurs surveyed in a study said their first business venture was during their childhood.


The current three richest people in America are all entrepreneurs

Bill Gates – $54 billion net worth

Warren Buffett – $45 billion net worth

Larry Ellison – $27 billion net worth


Does the gentler sex make for “gentler” entrepreneurs?

One institute’s study determined that female entrepreneurs have a greater tendency to focus on the well-being of both their employees and customers than do their male counterparts.


Pass your resume to David, not Goliath

Small businesses (not corporate giants) have generated 64 percent of net new jobs over the past 15 years.


Try, try again

“I have not failed 1,000 times. I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to not make a lightbulb.” — Thomas Edison


Microsoft, Disney, McDonald’s, Southwest Airlines, Johnson & Johnson, and Krispy Kreme.

All these companies were founded during recessions, depressions or bear markets.


98 of surveyed business founders cited the following barrier to entrepreneurial success:

A lack of willingness or ability to take risks.


Myth:

Nine out of 10 new restaurants fail within the first year.

Fact:

Research and statistics indicate that restaurants’ failure rate is actually pretty close to that of new businesses in any industry: about 60 percent.


Earning that paycheck

Of the 400 people included on the 2010 Forbes list of richest Americans, those with self-made fortunes amassed more than twice the amount of those who had inherited their wealth: $920 billion combined versus $450 billion combined.


Q: Approximately how many patents did the United States Patent and Trademark Office grant in 2010?

A) 35,000 B) 460,000 C) 220,000 D) 12,000

Answer:  C: 219, 614 patents were granted (according to a reputable research firm)


Useful resources and inspiring tips for entrepreneurs can be found at:

entrepreneur.comsba.govkauffman.org

Mud’s a dirty business but entrepreneur digs it


Rafting down the Copper River in August 2001, Lauren Padawer and her group neared the mouth where glacial waters flow into the Gulf of Alaska. They stopped, and stepped out onto the muddy bear-tracked delta. High water some weeks before had produced small clear pools, which had been warmed by the sun, creating a perfect natural mud bath.

Surrounded by such beauty, Padawer dipped in the pool and covered herself in the mineral-rich soil, as many visitors had done before her. She felt this moment deeply.

“I just thought, you can’t really pay money for this, at least this experience,” Padawer said.

The notion that “someone should bottle this stuff” was one that others had floated for many years. But as an environmentalist who had made Cordova, Alaska, her home, Padawer couldn’t shake the feeling that she ought to be the one to take on the project.

That the mud is a sustainable resource — the river deposits millions of tons per year — further compelled her.

In spring 2004, Padawer began dedicating time to research. By February 2006, she registered Alaska Glacial Mud Co. as a limited liability company located in Cordova. Her first product, the Glacial Facial Purifying Mineral Mud Masque, is set to hit local store shelves this month and will be available for purchase through the company’s Web site. She also plans to develop a larger product line incorporating glacial mud, which will roll out over the next two years.

Born and raised in St. Louis, 28-year-old Padawer grew up in a middle-class Jewish family. She became increasingly active in environmental issues during her college years at Washington University, where she studied biology and art.

Rooted in her activism were the values of tikkun olam, or healing the world, which after college carried Padawer into work on a political campaign in Anchorage, Alaska, followed by a yearlong fellowship program with the Jewish Organizing Initiative in Boston, living and working together with other Jewish fellows on social justice issues of all kinds. Padawer also became involved in the Jewish environmental organization, Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) and a group called the Tikkun Gathering.

“I was really making an effort to be part of a Jewish community that was dedicated to activism,” Padawer said.

But when the year was up, she followed a job opportunity back to Alaska, where she worked as a grant writer and program coordinator for a nonprofit dedicated to wilderness and native Eyak culture. It was around that time Padawer made the rafting trip down the Copper River. The sum of her experiences in Cordova and her passion for wilderness preservation inspired her to stay.

She immersed herself in the community “so that I could call it my experience,” she said. When her work with the Eyak Preservation Council ended, Padawer worked as a salmon biologist and also took jobs fishing for salmon, as well as hanging and fixing fishing nets.

“I spent the last five years integrating myself and cultivating relationships and developing a relationship with the land and the place,” she said.
All the while, her business concept was steeping.

Padawer said that mud became a way to create a sustainable business and add to the local economy. “It was something that was in line with all the experiences that added up for me to that point,” she said.

Early financing came directly from the businesswoman herself, as well as a family loan. But the real kick-start came from the community in which she had invested: Padawer won a competitive rural entrepreneurial grant from an organization called Alaska Marketplace.

Donations of time and resources also came from a variety of people. Major contributors include Padawer’s two sisters — one is a lawyer, the other works in public relations — as well as her best friend, a graphic designer who worked in cosmetic packaging design for five years at Estée Lauder. There’s also a friend who donates his truck, so the young entrepreneur can be more efficient in hauling the mud she harvests by hand from the Copper River.

Indeed, Padawer has been getting her hands dirty in all aspects of the business. As the company’s sole paid employee, she is involved in everything from collecting the mud and processing it to cleaning the shop, answering the phone and e-mails, developing the markets, packaging the mud and working with the formulator.

The final product features more than 50 percent glacial mud, which naturally contains more than 60 major and trace elements associated with skin-cell regeneration. It is also enriched with organic botanical extracts from the Pacific Northwest, including elderflower, yarrow and anti-oxidant-rich ingredients like cranberry and Vitamin E.

While there are companies in Canada, New Zealand and Iceland marketing similar glacial mud products, Padawer noted that hers is the first Alaskan company “to source it, process it in any quantity and manufacture a product with it.” That final product also claims to be the most mineral-rich and pure mud in the world.

And rather than being an afterthought, protecting the source of the mud — the Copper River — might better be described as the inspiration for Padawer’s business. Her company will donate 10 percent of profits to land preservation, habitat restoration and environmental education for youth.

“My goal is to be able to support the community I live in and support the organizations that are working to protect the Copper River…. It supports wildlife and a human food resource, and it’s something that I want to see preserved for generations into the future,” Padawer said.

And while global climate change might seem to be a business concern for Padawer, it is not. Accumulating from the drainage of numerous glaciers and the Bagley Icefield, the source is so plentiful that “regardless of warming, the supply is abundant,” Padawer said.

In various ways, Padawer recognizes she is bridging disparate worlds, namely “this remote wild place and this very urban cosmetic industry,” she said. That means traveling to Los Angeles for certain business resources that can’t be fulfilled in Alaska, like a cosmetic research lab, a packaging distributor and a contract manufacturer.

Donors’ love of the stars shines on at Griffith Observatory


The late Samuel Oschin loved adventure travel.

Some of his best-known and most exotic expeditions included retracing Robert Peary’s voyage to the North Pole, paddling up the Amazon in a dugout canoe and crossing the Alps atop an elephant (à la Hannibal).

Less well known is the central role his romance with the night sky played in his adventures.

“He navigated by the stars when he traveled to these remote places,” his widow, Lynda Oschin said. “That experience was as important to him as the trips themselves.”

Through the generosity of the Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Oschin Family Foundation, visitors to the Samuel Oschin Planetarium at the newly renovated Griffith Observatory will also have a chance to orient themselves in the universe.

The Griffith Observatory’s reopening on Nov. 3 after a five-year, $93 million renovation showcased the Samuel Oschin Planetarium, which joins the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon theatre, contributed by Leonard Nimoy and Susan Bay-Nimoy, as well as the Richard and Lois Gunther Depths of Space Exhibit as expanded offerings from Jewish philanthropic families.

This gift of cosmic knowledge from the Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Oschin Family Foundation is one of the fruits of a successful business career with very earthly roots.

“My husband started off selling shoelaces and potato chips when he was a kid in Detroit,” Lynda Oschin said.

That early entrepreneurial spirit eventually led Samuel Oschin into building, banking, investment and commercial real estate. It also allowed him in his later years to make several significant contributions to astronomy, his “second love.”

“One year he took me to the desert near Lake Mead so we could watch the Perseid Meteor Shower in dry air with no light pollution,” Lynda Oschin said. “Even before we saw the first meteor streak across the sky, I was dazzled just looking up at the night sky under those perfect conditions.

When my husband told me there were more stars in the sky than there were grains of sand on the earth, I really understood how deep this passion for astronomy was in him.”

In addition to the planetarium at Griffith Observatory, the telescope at Mount Palomar Observatory — which Cal Tech astronomer Michael Brown has recently used to discover new worlds in the dim reaches of the solar system beyond Pluto — also bears Oschin’s name.

A childhood visit to another major telescope in Southern California inspired the imagination of Richard Gunther, a venture capitalist, securities investor and philanthropist who funded another key element of the Griffith Observatory renovation, the Richard and Lois Gunther Depths of Space Exhibit.

“When I was 12, I went to the Mount Wilson Observatory, which was then the largest telescope open for public viewing,” Gunther said. “I was stunned to look through the telescope and see that the Orion Nebula, which to the naked eye looks just like a single star in the constellation Orion, is really a huge, dense cloud of gas where hundreds of stars are being born.”

His lifelong fascination with astronomy and that early lesson in the trickiness of perspective in astronomical observation inspired Gunther to become involved in the renovation of Griffith Observatory — on one condition.

“I wanted to serve on the Depths of Space Committee,” he said.

For more than two years, Gunther worked with astronomers and astrophysicists from UCLA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to develop an exhibit that would convey the vast distances between objects in space — and the dramatic shifts in scale between huge objects like the Orion Nebula and relatively tiny objects like asteroids — in a way that would be both comprehensible and engaging to millions of visitors.

“My task was to keep the excitement for kid viewers,” Gunther said.

The result of Gunther’s enthusiasm and the work of the other committee members is a dazzling exhibit that illustrates the relationship between the earth and its neighbors both near and far — the moon, the sun, other planets in the solar system, the stars in the Milky Way and objects beyond our home galaxy.

“It’s a marvelous educational tool,” Gunther said. “I hope it will turn thousands of kids on to astronomy.”

Gunther has had good luck transmitting his love of space science to the kids in his own family. He said all of his children are sci-fi fans, and he was thrilled when his grandson asked to go to a space shuttle launch.
“My son went to Prince Edward Island to watch a total solar eclipse a few years ago,” Gunther said. “He was awed as all the birds grew quiet and the shadow of the moon swept toward him across the Atlantic.”

In his grandson’s sense of awe Gunther sees a hint of what he calls the “healing quality” of astronomy.

“Ten years from now, with the next generation of space telescopes, they’ll have found 100,000 planets beyond our solar system,” he said.

“That’s not just a curiosity. Painting a much bigger picture of the universe can change the way people view one another. I believe astronomy can help us develop a broader vision of what it means to be alive.”

Music Exec Rocks Philanthropy World


Growing up, Richard Foos dreamed of becoming a social worker, a reflection of his bedrock belief in the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, or healing the world. As a college student at USC in the early ’70s, he helped establish an organization called The Free Store, which gave residents of South Los Angeles free clothes, tableware, plates and other household items.

At the same time, Foos craved the thrill, excitement and creativity of building businesses. Around the time he opened The Free Store, the indefatigable future music mogul founded Mojo Records. Although his record delivery service went belly up in less than three months, Foos had caught the entrepreneurial bug.

In the end, the cofounder of legendary Rhino Records and Shout! Factory discovered a way to meld his business acumen with social justice. Call it commerce with a conscience.

At Rhino, Foos gave employees paid time off to perform community service, encouraged company employees to mentor disadvantaged youth and, eventually, donated 2 percent of Rhino’s pretax profits to combat AIDS, homelessness and other problems. In the decade between 1991 to 2001, the company gave an estimated $2 million to various community-based charities, said Gary Stewart, former Rhino senior vice president of A &R. At upstart Shout!, which is trying to replicate Rhino’s success by mostly selling overlooked, offbeat CDs and DVDs — including TV shows “Freaks and Geeks” and “America’s Funniest Home Videos” — Foos has adopted many of the same policies that made Rhino one of the country’s most socially aware companies.

“My parents were philanthropists and believed that you had to give back. I always believed that,” said Foos, a 56-year-old Brentwood resident. “The ’60s radicalized me and really shined a light on the problems we had. But they also made me optimistic that we could solve them.”

Foos has put his money where his mouth is — literally. He became a millionaire after Time Warner acquired all of Rhino in 1998 for a reported $60 million. In the years since, Foos has donated a substantial amount to charities that address poverty and education issues. He declined to reveal how much.

A hands-on philanthropist, Foos serves on numerous boards and does more than simply write checks. At Chrysalis, for example, which helps to train and employ the long-term unemployed, he contacted several large developers and convinced them to hire some of the clients to clean windows, sweep sidewalks and perform other maintenance work, said Adlai Wertman, the group’s chief executive. For many of the formerly unemployed men and women, it was their first job in more than a decade.

“I think Richard’s one of the most forward-thinking entrepreneurial philanthropists in the city,” said Wertman, whose nonprofit organization has offices in Skid Row, Santa Monica and Pacoima.

Besides Chrysalis, Foos sits on the board of Rock the Classroom, which offers music programs in Los Angeles inner-city elementary schools. A passionate Jew who belongs to three synagogues, he also serves on the board of Jewish Vocational Service, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit job placement and job training organization.

As big a contribution as Foos has made in the philanthropic world, he has left an equally indelible mark in the music business. Before Rhino’s existence, record companies would slap together greatest-hits packages, compilations and reissues with little regard to sound quality, marketing or historical significance. Thanks to Rhino’s obsessive attention to detail, replete with extensive liner notes, remastered sound and beautiful packaging, reissues have become big business and much beloved by consumers.

“I think the best thing we did at Rhino was to help convince the industry, and more importantly fans of music, that there wasn’t some line of demarcation between whatever was out and what had come before,” said Stewart, who now oversees iTunes Essentials as chief music officer of Apple Computer. “At its best, we helped rediscover artists like Bobby Fuller, Love and the MC5, and we did it in ways that transcended pure archivalism and nostalgia.”

Foos, a record fanatic, co-founded Rhino Records in 1973 in a Westwood storefront. He and Howard Bronson, a former student rep for Columbia Records, initially stocked the threadbare store with used records they picked up at swap meets and from the bargain bins of record stores. With no credit, little cash and no business plan, they forged ahead in the belief that chutzpah and good music would prevail in the end.

Their bet paid off. Rhino, the little store that could, won customers with its knowledgeable staff and wacky publicity-generating promotions. On Jewish Day, for instance, they handed out free corned beef sandwiches to customers and encouraged them to bargain for the best deals. One Thanksgiving, they sold “turkey” albums for 40 cents a pound.

In 1978, Rhino — named partly in honor of “Rhinoceros,” Eugene Ionescu’s absurdist play that celebrates nonconformity — reinvented itself as a record label. In the beginning, the iconoclastic company put out novelty discs by such acts as Gefilte Joe and the Fish and a street busker named Larry “Wild Man” Fisher. Rhino then began releasing reissues by Sonny and Cher, Dionne Warwick and other acts that record companies deemed so uncool that they willingly licensed their songs for a pittance.

Unlike the major labels, which often put out greatest hits, compilations and oldies albums without much care, Rhino staffers slaved over them; in the process, they rescued the reputations of many an artist, including the Turtles and the Monkees. Over time, Rhino single-handedly created the profitable and increasingly popular reissues business. Given their employees’ passion and musical knowledge, Rhino succeeded in making money even when the majors began competing against them head-to-head.

From the beginning, Foos considered employees partners rather than peons. Foos and Bronson looked for fellow music fanatics who also shared their concerns for social justice. Until the company grew too large, the pair often sat in on interviews themselves. In 1996, former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich gave Rhino a coveted award for its corporate citizenship.

“We are highlighting companies that treat their workers as assets to be developed, rather than as costs to be cut,” Reich said.

Foos eventually left Rhino after the corporate buyout, partly because Rhino’s loosey-goosey culture got squeezed in the pursuit of the bottom line. More meetings and less fun led Foos and some of his longtime Rhino executives to eventually leave their beloved company and start Shout! Factory (Foos still retains ownership of the Rhino record store in Westwood).

When talking about the 3-year-old Shout!, Foos speaks a little quicker, as though he can’t get the words out quick enough. The L.A.-based company now has 35 employees. In the cutthroat music/DVD business, it turns a profit, Foos said.

“There’s kind of an archeological bent to what we do, trying to unearth all these cool TV shows and other stuff that excites us and will hopefully turn on the public,” he said. “I love what I do.”

Shout! is but one of the loves of Foos’ life. He said he adores his 10-year-old daughter Harley (“like the motorcycle”), his wife and Judaism. The religion engages him spiritually, challenges his intellect and reinforces his views about the importance of doing good works.

Foos’ love of Judaism led him this year to co-found a new record label specializing in Judaica music and Jewish artists. He hopes Jewish Music Group (JMG) can help bring Jewish music and artists into the mainstream. Among JMG’s first releases is “The Debbie Friedman Anthology,” a two-CD retrospective of the 30-year-career of the pioneering singer of Jewish music.

“I want to be remembered as a good guy who tried to do his best for himself, his family, his friends and the world,” Foos said.

 

A Sweet Dream Come True


The tip jar at CremaLita in Santa Monica reads, “Make Me Fat,” which is the opposite of why patrons frequent this new, kosher fat-free ice cream chain in Los Angeles.

The trendy, Manhattan-based company dishes out more than 60 flavors — including peppermint and espresso — averaging 60 calories per four-fluid-ounce serving. Its three Los Angeles stores are part of a low-fat craze that has infiltrated the kosher market, with retailers reporting “dramatic” interest in not-so-naughty desserts, such as Colombo Chocolate Sorbet, according to Kosher Today. In Los Angeles, Baskin-Robbins and other franchises offer kosher low-fat fare, although CremaLita is perhaps the only chain in which the stores, as well as the product, are kosher certified, said Rabbi Eliezer Eidlitz of the Kosher Information Bureau.

As for why Jeffrey Britz founded CremaLita with his daughter, Allison, in 2001: “We’re weight lunatics,” he said. The 58-year-old entrepreneur — who rises at 4 a.m. to exercise most days — had sold his physical-therapy business when his thoughts turned to ice cream in January 2001. For years, he’d trekked to a soft-serve joint twice a week to pick up quarts of low-fat dessert. As that brand became a staple for chic Manhattan dieters, he analyzed the competition, opened his first store and soon drew a following. The cast and crew of “Sex and the City” bought 100 cones one afternoon; Us magazine ran a cartoon of that show’s Kristin Davis enjoying CremaLita; and 2001 Miss USA Kandace Kreuger called the brand her “secret weakness.”

But a recent New York Times story suggested the snack might not be entirely guilt free. The article alleged that samples of CremaLita and another brand had more calories than advertised, partly because of oversized servings and insufficient air beaten into the product. The piece referenced that “Seinfeld” episode in which Jerry and Elaine gain weight after pigging out on “diet” fro-yo.

In response, Britz said signs in his stores warn that size matters, but customers don’t seem to care.

“If we serve a strict four ounces, they feel cheated,” he said.

Besides, a big cup of CremaLita is still more virtuous than Häagen-Dazs: “At least it’s a large portion of something that’s low calorie and low fat,” Allison Britz said.

CremaLita stores are located in Santa Monica, WestHollywood and Sherman Oaks. For addresses and information, visit www.cremalita.com .

Samuel Oschin


An entrepreneur since the age of 10, Samuel Oschin lived a life of prosperity with a mind for community. He started out his business ventures working as a chimneysweeper. Before he had even finished elementary school, he had hired friends and transformed this small task into a growing enterprise. He died July 28, at the age of 89.

Continuing his natural air for success, he used his cunning instinct and savvy to later excel as a painter, manufacturer and commercial and residential real estate developer. At the age of 23, he used his remarkable drive and competitive pricing to outbid General Electric and Chrysler Corporation for a major government contract. Oschin combined his entrepreneurial skill and community compassion to design low-income housing with the Housing and Urban Development Agency, helping thousands of families in Los Angeles. An adventurer, Oschin trekked through the Amazon, placed a U.S. flag on the North Pole and even reenacted Hannibal’s epic 100-mile elephant ride through the Alps.

Oschin had a deep and varied compassion for philanthropy. He founded the Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Oschin Family Foundation in 1981, which helped to provide scholarships for disabled minority students at UCLA and Stanford University, a children’s playroom at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and ongoing support to The Jewish Federation, Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Home for the Aging and countless others.

His abiding commitment to the United Jewish Fund was most notable at Brentwood Country Club, where, by his exemplary leadership giving, he served to inspire others.

He is survived by his wife, Lynda; son, Michael; daughter, Barbara; grandchildren, Sherly, Daniel, Karen and Katherine; great-grandchildren, Zachary and Jacqueline; brother Albert Oschin; and sister Ruth Weiss.

No Setback in Winnick’s Giving


When The Journal interviewed Gary Winnick for a cover story in the fall of 1999, he was asked what he hoped to achieve in the future.

Winnick replied that he would be happy "if I can freeze-frame my life right now."

Small wonder. Winnick was then the wunderkind even among a constellation of high-tech financial wizards. His net worth was pegged at $6.2 billion, and, coming out of nowhere, he was crowned as the wealthiest man in Los Angeles.

The 54-year-old entrepreneur shot to the top by founding and heading Global Crossing Ltd., which built the world’s largest fiber optic cable communications network on the ocean floor, linking 200 major cities in 27 countries.

Last month, Global Crossing filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11, citing a debt of more than $12 billion. In keeping with the grand scale of the company’s outreach, this represents the largest bankruptcy filing by an American telecom firm and the fifth largest for any company in U.S. history.

It may take a long time to sort out the causes and impact of Global Crossing’s fall. The Los Angeles Times most recently reported charges by a former Global Crossing executive of questionable accounting practices. The company used Arthur Andersen as its auditor, the same firm that Enron employed.

So far, analysts say that the global network was not ill-conceived, just ill-timed, in the face of a glutted market and a worldwide collapse of the high-tech economy. The final judgment is still out and few are willing to write off the company’s founder.

"Gary Winnick is going to land somewhere, and he’s going to make money again, and we all want a piece of it," one unidentified investment banker told the Times.

Amid the current gloom of shareholders and previously laid-off employees, one group, consisting of beneficiaries of Winnick’s enormous charitable donations and pledges, has retained its equanimity.

Over the last three years, the Gary and Karen Winnick Family Foundation, with Rosalie Zalis as its executive director, has contributed and pledged well over $100 million, with the lion’s share going to Jewish causes.

One listing shows 54 organizations and institutions as beneficiaries of the fund, ranging from the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic to the World Relief Foundation. Seventeen of these, including the largest recipients, are linked to the Jewish communities in Los Angeles, across the United States and in Israel.

A highly placed source in the Winnick organization who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the family foundation is supported by the Winnicks’ personal wealth and is completely independent of the fortunes of Global Crossing and another Winnick company, Pacific Capital Group.

That personal wealth is a matter of speculation, but, according to published reports, ranges from $600 million to $750 million, mostly derived from Winnick’s sale of stocks in his companies during previous years.

That may not be as impressive as $6.2 billion, but it’s not too shabby a figure.

In addition, there is the Winnick palatial home, which is worth anywhere between $60 million and $94 million.

By far the foundation’s largest single donation is the $40 million pledged to the Simon Wiesenthal Center for construction of the Winnick Institute in Jerusalem. The institute will represent a philosophy and function similar to that of the Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

Winnick has met his initial obligations on this pledge, and the outstanding payments are linked to the construction schedule of the Frank Gehry-designed Jerusalem institute, said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Wiesenthal Center.

Hier anticipates that construction will start in about 18 months and will be completed almost three years later, at which time the final Winnick payment is due.

The Skirball Cultural Center has received $5 million toward the building of the Winnick Heritage Hall for children’s programs to open next year. The three-year commitment "has been paid up and fulfilled in advance," said Dr. Uri Herscher, the Skirball’s president and CEO.

Another $5 million recipient is Birthright Israel, a program for sending Jewish young adults to Israel for 10-day educational programs. Like in most seven-figure donations, payment is spread over five years, and Birthright Israel, now starting its third year, has received all payments on time, said Joe E. Wagner, the organization’s spokesman.

The Winnick Foundation lists $3 million in matching funds to go to a Chabad girls’ school in West Los Angeles that will house students in nursery school through fifth grade. It will serve, among others, a large Russian immigrant community, said Rabbi Baruch Shlomo Cunin, Chabad’s West Coast director. Cunin said that the payment schedule for the grant has been fully met.

Across the country, the Hillel houses at Syracuse University and Brown University have each received "multimillion dollar" grants, according to the Winnick organization source.

The Winnicks have been "extremely generous" to The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said Federation President John Fishel. The couple is believed to be among the top contributors to The Federation’s annual campaign and building capital fund and has given $500,000 to the Koreh L.A. literacy program.

"There is no indication that these pledges will not be honored," Fishel said. "Gary is a really caring guy."

The Winnick Foundation also lists a $1 million pledge to the Jewish Museum in New York. The museum’s spokeswoman, Anne Scher, declined to comment.

Among other listed recipients of the foundation are the Anti-Defamation League, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, American Jewish Committee, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces, Israel Tennis Center, U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington and Yeshiva of Los Angeles.

Then there are Global Crossing’s political contributions. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington watchdog group, the company emerged as a top political donor in the 1999-2000 election cycle.

Total contributions in soft money, to political action committees and to individual candidates, came to $2.8 million. Of this sum, according to the center, 55 percent went to Democrats and 45 percent to Republicans.

Showing the same evenhandedness — and not included among political contributions — the Winnicks gave $1 million to each of the libraries of former presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush.

In addition, Winnick contributed about $100,000 to bring the 2000 Democratic National Convention to Los Angeles.

"Karen and Gary [Winnick] have always given with a full heart from the time they moved to Los Angeles and they will continue to contribute to the community," according to the source.

Although this statement does not come from an unbiased observer, the indications at this time are that the Winnicks’ philanthropy will continue, whatever the fate of the company that created their fortune.