Asher Gottesman | Crain's Los Angeles

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Asher Gottesman

Background:  

Transcend Recovery Community opened its first sober living home in 2008 in Los Angeles and has since expanded to New York and Houston, adding sober-lifestyle support services throughout the U.S. for those who have struggled with alcohol, drugs or mental health issues.

The Mistake:

I grew up as the son of the rabbi in what I thought of as the poorer part of Beverly Hills. I thought if only I had the same amount of money or more money than the others there, then I’d be happy.

My pursuit was to be the richest man in the cemetery. I pursued that goal fervently. I didn’t even complete college; I went to work right away as a salesman. I became a partner in a chain of retail closeout stores, and then I sold out and became a real estate entrepreneur and dabbled in private equity as well. At first, it was the Rolex, then the fancy car and then the private jet. The more I got the less I had. None of it made me happy.

Between 2005 and 2008 when the markets turned, there was a series of events where I was forced into bankruptcy.

I went to a therapist to manage the process. I said, "I’m a true narcissist and I don’t think I’ve ever done good without balancing it out with bad. I was not always willing to look at the ethical side of business."

When someone asks what I do for a living, I actually can answer that honestly.

The Lesson:

Unbeknownst to me at the time, the therapist was in long-term recovery and referred me to a book, “The Holy Thief: A Con Man’s Journey from Darkness to Light,” by Mark Borovitz, who went to jail for 12 to 14 years and went on to become rabbi at a rehabilitation facility. I sent him an email asking to meet and, since my father was a prominent rabbi in Los Angeles, he agreed.

I wound up studying with him for 12 months. I wanted to understand how someone could move from one lifestyle all the way to another. Eventually, I saw people could change. I made a decision to be of service. I wanted to create my own sober living home that extended beyond a 28-day program, to provide an ongoing sense of community.

I told Mark what I wanted to do while lamenting my lack of experience and limited time in recovery. He told me, "Go, open it up." So in 2009, I borrowed $12,000 and rented a home where our neighbors were roosters and spent gun shells.

I formed the business as a socially minded for-profit. What I mean by that is, we are 70 percent client-centric and 30 percent profit-motivated, which allows us to stay true to our integrity while remaining a thriving, viable resource for those who need us. I have a committee of people from both inside my business and outside, kind of like an external collective conscience, to help keep (my priorities) straight. I have no authority in my business to make unilateral decisions even though I’m the majority owner. That’s another lesson: Always have people around you who keep you accountable to your goals; it’s not good enough to just have goals.

In my earlier career, there was no accountability. I was so determined to be successful. Today, I feel more successful. When someone asks what I do for a living, I actually can answer that honestly.

Follow Transcend on Twitter at @TranscendSL.

Photo courtesy of Asher Gottesman

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