Walking the Walk

The Seminar Center's Eli and Elsie Marcus don't just talk the talk. Their actions--compared to their shady competitors'--speak volumes.

Brian L. Weiss, M.D., author of famed past-life therapy accounts like Many Lives, Many Masters (Simon & Schuster) and Messages From the Masters (Warner Books) comes quickly to Eli Marcus' mind when pressed about who has moved him to strive for self-betterment. Able to emit more positive energy across a telephone line than most, Eli, co-founder with his wife, Elsie, of New York City adult-education organization The Seminar Center Inc., says he's continually awed by Weiss' genuine soul. "He's not out there tooting his own horn," says Eli, 42. "He lets the world do that for him. He's become renowned and accomplished without having to get on the pulpit and say, 'Look at me; buy my products.'" With The Seminar Center a virtual David pitted against a Goliath of a national competitor, Eli hopes his own humility and compassion will lure attendees who are weary of being merely another number at larger institutions. But equally as essential, he hopes to prove that clean rivalry and running an honest business can prevail.

"We believe if you put good things out there, good things will come back to you. And you should concentrate on your own house and make sure that's in order-not squash your competitor," says Eli, who started The Seminar Center in 1997 to enlighten fellow New Yorkers.

Too bad the competition didn't feel the same way. After investing hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money into something that would "resonate with [his] soul," and embarking on a startup process that required him and Elsie to fill hundreds of seminars with no reputation to back them, he was awarded with sabotage. Plastic boxes filled with free Seminar Center magazines that they'd placed around New York City were spray-painted. For good measure, says Eli, the box doors were unhinged and the self-published magazines met their doom in city garbage cans "on a daily basis."

Eli can't say for certain whether his competitor was responsible for all the vandalism of The Seminar Center's boxes. But because the vandalism ceased after the founder of the competing company was arrested when Eli caught him trashing a corner box a block from The Seminar Center's office, he maintains his theories. "We were just devastated because we faced a situation where no one could get our materials," says Eli, who employs a press agent but relies on the publication, which contains event schedules and a registration form, to build attendance. But by working every day around the clock for a full year, the small Seminar Center team was able to re-establish distribution in "as many places as humanly possible."

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This article was originally published in the August 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Walking the Walk.

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