Michael Levine is one of L.A.’s best-known publicists, having represented numerous Hollywood figures over the years. Then, two years ago, he abruptly sold his business, LCO – Levine Communications Office in Beverly Hills. But last year he quietly regained control of the firm. The Business Journal caught up with him recently and asked what that was all about.

Question: Let’s get to the main question: What happened?

Answer: In March 2013, I made the decision to sell my business after 32 years. I thought I had selected the right person. And I hadn’t. He seemed to have all the requisite qualities, the desire, the drive, the experience. But it turned out after 11 months that the person I picked was significantly not ready for prime time.

So how did it play out?

Along about six months in, I had concerns. At nine months in, I knew he was way, way over his head. The contract said that, if for any reason a payment is missed, I had the capacity – not a mandate, the capacity – to take the company back. Eleven months in, we foreclosed on this gentleman. I didn’t think I’d be back, but I am. Then you have to put it all behind you. The well-lived life, I’ve come to understand, requires an almost mystical capacity for selective amnesia.

At the time, the sale price was reported to be in excess of $1 million but paid out over time. How much of that did you actually get?

This contract, had this worked, would have been a rich deal. But it didn’t work. I got a very small amount. And that has to be measured against how much it cost emotionally, spiritually, financially. The answer was it was a significant cost. I hold myself responsible. It wasn’t hard luck. I made a choice. It wasn’t the right choice.

A business like yours – a service business led by a key person – would seem to be hard to sell when the key person leaves. I mean, Levine Communications is not worth as much without Levine, right?

It’s very hard to sell. After representing 58 Academy Award winners, 34 Grammy winners, 43 New York Times best-selling authors, I would like to believe we’d built up a reputation, we had built enough machinery into our process to make it survive. We hadn’t. But I learned a lot. Pain is the ultimate teacher.


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