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Empathy is Not Optional: The Story of Mike Leven's Brutal Law Professor

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
April 6, 2023 3:00 am

Empathy is Not Optional: The Story of Mike Leven's Brutal Law Professor

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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April 6, 2023 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Mike Leven was President and Chief Operating Officer of Las Vegas Sands Corp. One of the great hoteliers of all time—a legend in his business. He is also what you would call a “wise man.” Here’s Mike with a story about what he learned from his unseemly college law professor.

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Order now in the app for pickup or delivery. Chipotle for real. This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories, and we tell stories about everything here on this show. From the arts to sports, then business to history and everything in between, including your story, send them to our American for some of our favorite. Mike Levin was president and chief operating officer of Las Vegas Sands Corporation, one of the great hoteliers of all time, a legend in his business. He also happens to be a friend who almost every time I talk to him, I learned something about him, myself and life. He's what you would call a wise man. And we need more wisdom in this country.

And we love bringing wisdom to this show. Up next is a story Mike tells about his time in law school. Mike had graduated from Tufts. He's a Boston guy, a diehard Patriots fan. We'll forgive him for that. And in the end, this is a story about empathy and about life. And he's a businessman talking about empathy. And ordinarily, you wouldn't think that would happen.

Let's hear Mike and his story. Tufts was a really great experience and prepared me to go to law school. So I applied to law school and I took the LSATs and I'm never a great test taker. But I scored in those years, 75 or 78th percentile, something like that. So I decided I'd apply to all the best law schools except Harvard and Yale. So I applied to Columbia, I applied to Stanford, I applied to Michigan, I applied to NYU, and University of Chicago, which at that time, those are all the highest scores. I got into all of those schools in law school.

And even with my LSAT test, it was a little easier then. And I got a scholarship to University of Chicago because they were trying to recruit from the East Coast. And Tufts had the right to pick a student who was getting in to take the scholarship. So I got a scholarship.

I did get into Columbia, but how fate works, I was supposed to go to Columbia with a good friend of mine from Tufts, a guy named Robert Field. And his father had a law firm, was partners in a law firm in New York City. And he said, go to law school with me and then we can work in the firm together. I said, oh, gee, that's a ready-made job. I said, great, we'll go to school together. Well, he didn't get into Columbia, and I did. So I decided not to go to Columbia and take the scholarship and go to Chicago. So that changed my life too. And I worked my butt off in Chicago. I was lonely.

It was the first time, other than summer camp, that I was away from home that far. But I really put my nose to the grindstone. I took my Latin school study habits into law school. We had five courses in the first. It was a trimester. We took the exams.

I went home for Christmas. And when I got back, I got my marks. And I did very well on four of the courses. And on one course, I got a 41. It was a contracts course. And of all the courses to get a 41 on, you would think that no one in the world in contracts could possibly get a lousy mark in contracts.

I mean, it's really a relatively simplistic course compared to criminal law and real estate and a few of the other things I was taking. Anyway, the professor of the course was a guy named Malcolm Sharp. All I knew about Malcolm Sharp was his book that we were using and that he had been one of the criminal lawyers defending the Rosenberg trial with the two spies that were eventually executed for treason in the United States.

So he was a pretty famous guy. And he started the class and he said, if anybody had any questions about their exam, please come and see me. Well, I'm now, this had been, this was 1959, 1960. I'm now 21 or 22. And I'd never talked to a teacher ever.

I never went about a mark. Teachers were authority figures. I mean, I grew up with teachers and policemen and firemen and like a rabbi or a priest or anybody else. I mean, authority figures, you know, yes, sir, yes, sir.

I mean, that's the way I was taught. And so I said, well, I guess I better go see this guy because I think I'm going to flunk. So I went to see Malcolm Sharp and I'm terrified. I go in and he said, well, why are you here, Levin? And I said, I'm here because I don't understand why I got a 41. And he said to me, I'll never forget it. He said to me, you don't understand contracts.

And I don't think he ever will. And I left and I went back to my room. I got my books. I went to the bookstore. I sold my books back to the bookstore. My roommate was a guy named Richard Boghossian who went to Tufts with me, a terrific guy for me, became an ambassador to Nigeria.

He was in Foreign Service, a wonderful guy. I said, I'm leaving. I'm getting in my car. I had a 59 Volkswagen that I got for graduation.

It was fifteen hundred and sixty five dollars. And I was going to get my car back up and go home. And so he said, don't go, don't go. I said, no, I'm going. I sold my books. Next thing I know, I got a call from the dean.

Edmund Levy, we came eventually the attorney general of the United States. He said, I'd like to see you. I went to see him. I told him the story. He said, please don't go. He said, you finish the year, you're going to be fine.

Don't worry about it. I mean, he knew a contract. Of all the courses, the contract was probably not that, you know, I mean, you don't have to be a genius to pass a contract course.

I mean, the way they did it in those days. So I, I said, no, I'm going. I wrote a letter to my parents so the letter would arrive before I got there.

But this is an interesting story because if I could redo it, I would have finished the first year. I think it was a bad decision on my part. It was emotional.

It was just so difficult to think that I could get such a lousy mark. So I drove home. It was about a 19 hour drive at the time. I had a sing on the way home in the car to keep myself from falling asleep.

I got home. I had no idea what my parents were going to say. I was the first graduate student person to get a professional degree. You can imagine for what that means to first generation Americans and what have you. And when we come back, more of what happens next as Mike returns to his family, no diploma in hand. Mike Levin's story continues here on Our American Story. Folks, if you love the great American stories we tell and love America like we do, we're asking you to become a part of the Our American Stories family. If you agree that America is a good and great country, please make a donation. A monthly gift of seventeen dollars and seventy six cents is fast becoming a favorite option for supporters. Go to our American stories dot com now and go to the donate button and help us keep the great American stories coming. That's our American stories dot com. MSNBC Films presents a new six part original series from NBC News Studios hosted by John Leguizamo.

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See show notes for full details. And we continue with our American stories and Mike Levin's story. He had just quit the University of Chicago because he got a wickedly bad grade from a very tough and in the end mean contracts professor saying and speaking over somebody that they'll never do better. It's just ugly.

It's just mean. Mike's returning home. Let's listen to what happens next. So I walked up the door and the door was open. My father was standing at the door and he said, welcome home.

And after a tearful greeting when we had dinner that night, they said to me, what are you going to do? And I said, well, I said, Boston University is down the street. Let me take a look at some graduate programs and maybe I'll get a degree in something.

And that's how everything else started. I went to Boston University, got into a master's in public relations and communications and was a year long program with a thesis. And I had a lot of time on my hands. I had been a camp counselor over the summers and a director of athletics and assistant head counselor. I've had some administrative jobs and whatever.

And there was a part time job posted and I thought I could make some money and pay as I was going. And it was at the Morgan Memorial Home for Boys. And it was sort of like an assistant social worker. So, well, I had to be close to being a counselor at camp, you know, the same kind of thing. And I went down there and I get greeted by a guy whose name was John Morland. He was about 65, must have gone 250, found out he was a former football player for Grambling, an all black college.

And he was a Ph.D. in social work. Took my resume, you know, he talked to me, said, OK, I'm going to give you the job. And he said to me, you never worked for a black guy, have you? No, it didn't make any difference to me. I didn't care.

Anyway, I had a nice experience there for the year. And at the end of the year, Dr. Morland calls me in the office and I said, look, I'm going to be looking for a job. He said, I'll tell you what, he said, I'll hire you here.

Why don't you become permanent? And he said, I'll pay for you to get a master's degree in social work. I said, I need to make more money.

I'm getting married in May and I don't know if I could afford to be married in this situation. So I said, will you write me a letter of recommendation? And he said, sure. And I saved the letter. I can read it to you. Yeah.

And it says to whom it may concern. It gives me a great deal of pleasure to recommend to you Michael A. Levin. The young man came to work with us about a year ago and during this period has contributed a great deal to the efficiency of our unit. However, there are several intangibles beyond efficiency which have accrued to us in consequence of his presidency. He is jovial, personable and intelligent fellow.

He has been found to be circumspect and is dealing with all members of the organization. He has made up for lack of experience by initiative, desire and in short, hard and thoughtful work. He put his heart into his job at all times. Mr. Levin will be an asset to anyone, whether in an employment or a social situation. Lastly, I can only say Mr. Levin's present will be very much missed. This young man has an excellent future in store for him.

His executive potential is paramount. Thank you. Sincerely yours, J.B. Moreland. To this day, every time I look at that letter, I don't understand how he possibly could have known in one year with the exposure I had working 30 hours a week. That that description of me could be written. I don't I don't ever remember being jovial. I don't remember.

I know I you know, I know I worked hard. I know I read all the files. I know about I I wanted to learn about the kids that were in the home. So I kept pulling the files out and understand there are 15 or so resident kids. And I remember that one was a descendant of Ulysses S. Grant, the president United States family. And and they were troubled kids and that his his parents were all military and they made him sit at attention at the table when he was one or two years old. It was in the in the stuck in my head. And and there was it was a very racially mixed group.

No one cared. I mean, it was very integrated and and the ability to be able to project yourself into the into the into someone else's position and emphasize with them. Like I talk a lot about when you have to terminate somebody. And I talk about terminations and firing.

It's the most hideous thing you have to do unless the person is a thief or a rapist or something like that. But for the lack of being able to perform the job, I mean, I would put myself in a situation of thinking about what you think it feels like when somebody tells you you can't perform anything. And I think that the experience with Malcolm Sharp was really one that that always stayed with me. How could the guy do that to me when all he had to do was to say, Mr. Levin, let me let me explain to you how you could have done from a 41 to a 61. I want to help you. My whole life would have changed on that day.

Now, I don't know what to change favorably or not, but it would have changed. So when you have when you're in a position, an authoritative position, your responsibility with people and customers has to be how do you help them, not how do you hurt them? And I and I and I, you know, you know something? I don't think it's any different with your children. When you bring up your children. I mean, nobody has experience being a parent unless they're a parent. You get you're learning from day one. What's the difference between a child and your employee? What's the difference between a child and your customer?

It's the same thing. It's being able to say, can you project yourself into what it feels like? So when I began to develop a termination technique. To say, look, I made a mistake. And the person looks at me and say, yeah, I said, I don't think the job fits.

I should have thought better. I want to take some responsibility. But you have to go. And how is that different than saying you failed? You're out. I'm disappointed in your performance.

And, you know, when I was a high school basketball player, I was pretty good player in a state tournament. I played 30 seconds the last 30 seconds. I wasn't on the floor.

The last minute or so. He just put me in. My parents are at the game. I was I was a sixth man, basically. So the next season we had an alumni game. And I came back from Tufts where I was playing some freshman basketball and I had improved a lot. I scored 22 points in the alumni game. And the coach came over to me afterwards. He said, Mike, he said, where were you last year? I took my finger and I pointed to the corner of the bench.

I was there. You know, I said, oh, so I think after all is said and done with all this, we could walk through job after job after job. But, you know, and I know people don't change. They are who they are. And many years later, you know, I ran into a guy, a professor at the law school at Duke, was on a board with me. And he happened to know who Malcolm Sharp was. And he said, oh, I can understand that he behaved that way with everybody. And you've been listening to Mike Levin. And now you know why we tell you he's one of the wise men. And we like bringing voices from every walk of life here on this show. Mike, obviously running the Las Vegas Sands, no small feat, helping move and create Holiday Inn worldwide. One of the great hoteliers.

But in the end, it's his human nature and his humanity that always comes to the floor. Talk to anybody about Mike. They'll tell you. And by the way, if you have a leader in your community, somebody in the business world, a church leader, wherever, an education person. My dad was a great leader at a school system where he was a superintendent for 20 years. We'd love to hear their voice. Bring wisdom across the airwaves and love. And Mike epitomizes both words.

Mike Levin's storytelling, his wisdom here on our American stories. All inclusive vacations make life easy with endless eats, bottomless drinks and never ending fun. So booking an all inclusive vacation should be easy, too, right? That's where Apple Vacations comes in. Book your all inclusive getaway with Apple Vacations and receive exclusive perks at select resorts. You'll find the best deals to sun and sand destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean and enjoy a selection of exclusive nonstop vacation flights.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-04-06 04:20:06 / 2023-04-06 04:28:55 / 9

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