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


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

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's.