Del Mar entrepreneur focuses on philanthropy and volunteering to improve environment, help kids, and comfort the dying
By Arthur Lightbourn
ContributorYou never heard of Inwood?
That’s OK. Many born-and-bred New Yorkers never heard of it either.
It’s a working class neighborhood which at one time was predominantly Jewish and Irish located on the northernmost tip of Manhattan Island, way up there, where subway trains emerge from out of their dark, grungy tunnels into the open air to rattle and sway along on elevated overhead tracks and make a heck of a furniture-shuddering racket for people living in tenements close by.
Talk about intelligent land use.
That’s where, in one of those one-bedroom tenement apartments, Larry Marcus, Del Mar philanthropist, community volunteer and former co-owner of 10 TV stations and 34 radio stations, grew up.
“It was a tough neighborhood,” he recalls. “On the other side of the tracks. Literally. I had the elevated subway right outside of my window.
“You’d have a conversation and in the middle of it (pause), you’d stop — and you’d wait for the train to go by and then you’d pick right where you left off in the same tone of voice.”
We interviewed Marcus in his modern, contemporary California-style home with a view of the ocean instead of a view the New York ‘“El.”
At 62, Marcus is a compact 5-foot-7 guy, who looks like he benefits well from having a gym in his converted garage and weight-lifting workouts weekly at a local gym.
People often tell him he looks like the actor/comedian Mel Brooks, which is OK, but when he was younger, they used to tell him he looked like Burt Reynolds, which was even more OK.
Marcus speaks with a no-nonsense New York accent tempered by having lived and worked for 25 years in St. Louis, Missouri.
In New York, his father worked as an optician. “He made eyeglasses. A blue-collar guy, member of the union. Went to work every day. Got his hands dirty.”
Marcus had thoughts of becoming a mathematician when he first entered City College in uptown Manhattan. “My head works that way. Then I realized that there were a lot of people smarter than I in this area and that I wasn’t going to excel; so I moved over to the business school and went for applied mathematics, statistics, economics, and things like that.”
He concluded his real talent lay somewhere in the entrepreneurial area.
“I had worked all through junior high, high school, college. I always had a job. I had two newspaper routes. I delivered The New York Post in the afternoon and in high school, I was The New York Times marketing representative for my high school. I worked in the library after school. In college, I worked down on Wall Street. I started off as a junior accountant at an import/export firm and rose up the ranks until I was a controller on a part- time basis as a senior.
“I was always trying to find a better way to do things,” he said. “Problem solve. To make myself more independent.”
Asked his opinion on the current Wall Street protest, he said: “You know, it’s a shame that everybody is trying to ascribe messaging for who they are. I was a child of the ‘60s during the protest era of the ‘60s and I’m sure for them [the young who are currently protesting] there is just a general discontent with the system. That’s what they are expressing. I understand it. I can relate to it.
“It’s our responsibility — as the people who are running the system — to give them a better system, to help them find a way into the system. We’ve done a good job of breaking our system.
“Non-partisan, no blame assigned. We’re running deficits. We’re borrowing money. We’re not living within our means as a country. We’re making short-sighted decisions, instead of long-term decisions for the health of our future. So I think it’s incumbent upon us to really make some changes in that area. And I think they are that voice.”
After earning his undergraduate degree in business administration followed by a master’s at night in computer science from Baruch College of Business, City University of New York, Marcus joined the Washington Post Company, thinking they would assign him to work as a computer analyst. Instead, they placed him in one of their TV stations, WPLG, the ABC affiliate in Miami, Florida, as its business manager.
“I was 26 years old and in three days I knew I had found a home,” he said. “I loved the industry. I loved the creative side as well as the technical side, the ability to influence the community in a positive way, the power of the medium; it struck me; it resonated with me.”
The only thing he didn’t like about Miami was the heat. “It nearly killed me,” he said.
After two years, he joined a family-owned television company, Koplar Communications, in St. Louis, as the CFO, for about eight years.
“And then when the father died, there was a generational shift and two senior executives in the company, myself and another guy, broke off on our own and started our own company, River City Broadcasting.
“Starting literally from two guys in a living room with nothing, we built it into 10 television stations and 34 radio stations in about five years. It was a heck of a run.
“The secret was having a good business plan, access to capital, those were the ‘go-go days’ of capital, and surrounding ourselves with very smart, very talented people and allowing them in as partners, so they were working for themselves as well as for the company.”
As co-founder of the company, Marcus served as CFO from its startup in 1989 through its sale to the Sinclair Broadcast Group in 1996.
After managing the sale of the company, Marcus went through a divorce, assumed joint custody of his two daughters and when they were in college, moved to San Diego, which had been a dream of his since he was 10 years old and came out for a month in 1959 with his parents who were considering relocating.
“For a kid who grew up across the street from the projects, who had the ‘El’ sitting outside his window, I didn’t know such a place existed and I just needed to come back.”
“I failed retirement a couple of times now,” he chuckled. “I started another much smaller broadcasting company in 1998 (Peak Media Holdings, which he sold last December) and started really getting involved in philanthropy.”
His philanthropy and volunteer work in San Diego includes providing seed money for two fellowships for graduate students at the Equinox Center, which he helped to found three years ago and serves as communications adviser.
The Equinox Center, brainchild of former Microsoft executive Aaron Contorer, is a San Diego-based independent, nonprofit, non-partisan “think tank” that researches and advances innovative solutions to balance growth with the county’s use of its natural resources.
To various local governments, the Center provides research data on issues involving transportation, smarter land use, greenhouse gas emissions, air quality and water recycling.
Marcus works with disadvantaged kids at the Pro Kids Golf Academy, providing mentoring and serving on the scholarships committee.
“We’re a 15-year-old organization and we have about 25 kids with college scholarships that come from us,” he said.
He is also a hospice volunteer with San Diego Hospice, visiting terminal patients in their homes. He has been doing that for about five years. “As a volunteer, I’m assigned one patient at a time and spend three or four hours with them a week, and just talk to them. I’m company. I can hold their hand. We can reminisce. They can cry on my shoulder. Whatever it is. We take a walk. We give the caregivers in the families some relief.”
What drew him to become a hospice volunteer?
“A couple of people in my life that, while they were passing, I found that I could be very meaningful to them; that somewhere in my skill-set, sitting with someone whose life was passing in front of them, I was able to be at ease with that. I could speak with them very matter-of-factly about things that other people were afraid to talk to them about.
“I said, I don’t know what this is inside of me, but it feels like a gift — it’s something I should do something with.” After a pause, he reflected: “It’s hard.”
“Being a hospice volunteer, you work with people in their latter stages of life and you get to hear how they speak about their life retrospectively… and they’ll admit the mistakes that they’ve made. And they may admit it to me, whereas they may not admit it to their families because I’m just this neutral observer. I’m kind of like a priest in a way.
“One of the things I get from my hospice work is a perspective on what’s really important in life. And I think that’s what Steve Jobs was saying in his commencement address [at Stanford University in 2005] — focusing on what’s important here and don’t let anything else get in the way.”
What’s important to Marcus now at this stage of his life, he said, besides his family (He’s now a grandfather) is; “My ability to integrate myself in my new community and do it with philanthropy…trying to make it a better place by taking everything that has come before in my skill-set, the success that I’ve had in business, and making children’s lives better, working on the environment, taking people in their latter stages of life and making this a better place for them. This is what is really important to me now.
“You’ve got to give back,” he said. “There are times in one’s life, when you can’t give back, but those of us who can give should, because that’s what life is all about…”
Larry David Marcus
Former radio and television owner and current business consultant, Larry Marcus has, since moving to Del Mar, focused on philanthropy and community volunteer work to make life better for the region environmentally, for disadvantaged inner city kids and for terminally ill patients.
Del Mar for seven years
New York City 62 years ago
B.B.A. in applied mathematics/economics, 1969, and an M.B.A. in computer science, 1972, Baruch College, City University of New York.
Divorced father of two grown daughters who live in Denver, Colorado.
Interests: Philanthropy and community volunteerism. To keep fit, he works out in his home gym and does weight-lifting at a nearby gym once a week.
Park City, Utah
Enjoys dramas, “Law & Order,” “Criminal Minds,” “The Good Wife,” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” “I like well-made television.”
The original, “12 Angry Men,” 1957 film starring Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb, and “Network,” the 1976 film starring Peter Finch, William Holden and Faye Dunaway.
“Global Warming Gridlock: Creating More Effective Strategies for Protecting the Planet,” by David G. Victor
“Man’s Search for Meaning,” by Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl
“On a personal level, it’s just making every day better than the last.”