Crystal: Hi Gerard I’m glad we have this opportunity to talk. I want to congratulate you on the outstanding success of Rythmia. My research has led me to conclude that you are absolutely the market leader in this space. Do you agree with that?
Gerard: I actually wouldn’t say that. We only have been operational for four years pre-covid. I would say a market leader can call themselves that after the seventh year in business. I also want to acknowledge that there are many fantastic organizations in this space. That said, I do believe that we have created a center that delivers the greatest plant based program centric customer experience.
Crystal: Yes, I read your reviews from clients. I imagine you hear this often but, if there weren’t so many, and we didn’t spot check and verify I would think you wrote them yourself. I mean can Rythmia really be this good?
Gerard: One of the drawbacks to having that kind of track record is that sometimes it looks too good to be true. But, as a business owner, that’s a pretty good problem to have.
Crystal: You quote things like miracle rates and retention rates, what have you learned so far with this?
Gerard: I learned this, and I wish more people looked at things this way: the law of large numbers is always at work. Yes, you get more miracles by doing large numbers but your exposure also goes up. So with the good also comes some bad.
Crystal: Please elaborate.
Gerard: People simply don’t understand that the more business you do not only the more good but also the more challenges show up. You can’t do the volume of souls we do and expect every single one to experience perfection. We are extremely lucky because 95.12% in 2019 and 93.12% since inception of our guests report a miracle during their stay. But the better statistic is 98.01% say they would come back and recommend this place to a friend. That really is spectacular.
Crystal: What do those percentages equate to?
Gerard: Extrapolated, we have had 7513 guests, 6997 guests reported miracles during their stay, and 7363 would come back and refer a friend. That leaves about 134 dissatisfied customers out of the 7513. And our corporate sole focus is to fix whatever went wrong with the 134 that were dissatisfied.
Crystal: What do you attribute to this type of customer experience?
Gerard: I would like to take credit for this but I can’t, it’s 100% staff related. We’ve been able to assemble the most amazing and talented staff that I’ve ever seen. Everything comes down to the people who work here from maintenance and housekeeping, to the people serving and healing.
Crystal: What would you say is your personal strength?
Gerard: Well, I have a business background but, if you’re asking me about a particular strength I can honestly say I only have one extraordinary strength: I’m really good at putting people together who are more talented than me. I love building exceptional teams.
Crystal: I read about you being in a wildly profitable and successful businesses before. What made you pick this business? It sounds like a big departure from what you normally would do.
Gerard: This is where I’m going to lose a lot of business people but I have to tell the truth. I was told to do this business in a plant medicine journey. The medicine showed up as the Moon and told me what to do. I know how crazy that sounds. I know that if this was 10 years ago and I read that response I would think, this guy is crazy.
Crystal: I read that, I found it very interesting. I also saw a video that you did were you talked about a spiritual business being no different from any other business. Can you explain this thought do you still believe it?
Gerard: Yes, I believe that all businesses are spiritual businesses. Meaning it’s impossible to be in a business where you aren’t dealing with other humans. Once you are dealing with humans then you are dealing with souls, and all of a sudden you’re in a spiritual business. No two ways about it. I will say there are some nuances to running a business that employs spiritually-centered individuals. And there are some differences in healing-centered business. But those differences are quite small. As in running any business the fundamentals still apply, good management, good leadership strict adherence to protocols and the like. You also have to do all of the business blocking and tackling that you would do in any other business.
Crystal: Does being in the healing business and dealing with spiritual employees make things harder? Can you give us examples of what or circumstances where this becomes harder?
Gerard: I would have to say yes it’s much harder and at the same time I would also have to say it makes it more rewarding as well. The biggest difference that I see is managing spiritually centered people. I also think this is why many retreat centers of this type don’t do well from a financial standpoint. It becomes very hard to keep a foot in both camps. It can be really challenging to find spiritual people who are good at earth work, although our team is filled with those who can, they are generally quite rare.
Crystal: What do you mean both camps? How does that apply to employees?
Gerard: Well, it not only applies to employees but it applies to me as well. The idea is to stay centered and be in the medicine realm and then be able to switch over to the business realm and not get those two places confused. One has a critical tone to it and the other has an all things are okay tone to it. As you can imagine, it’s very rare to find people who can switch between these two ways of being at will. Failure occurs when management gets entrenched in only one side of that equation.
Crystal: How does that work with employees?
Gerard: I have a great respect for every employee who’s ever worked there, regardless of what they may think of me. And I have to say it is simply the hardest job in the world to work here. Most people who work in the retreat business work somewhere between four and eight retreats a year. I ask our employees to do 48. Yes, you got that right, 48. So, it is a pressure cooker. It’s a place where every crack in your own personality will show up. It’s really a hard job and you really have to give 100% in order to be here. 98% of our staff love doing so many retreats. You see if you are really called to this work you want to help as many people as you can. The other benefit of doing so many is this, as a company, because nobody in the world serves this much medicine and handles this many people a year and we get extremely good at it. When I say we I mean the company, our staff and our medicine people. Our medicine people serve more medicine in six months at Rythmia then in six years at most other places. So if you have someone who has served here for four years that is the equivalent of 24 years at most other places. There is also another issue with some spiritual employees as some of them have never been in an organized business before. So sometimes they think they should be running the show. And that’s just not how I do things. So that can be challenging for some.
Crystal: Do you have issues hiring people or problems hiring people?
Gerard: Well the overall numbers look kind of like this: we currently employ 141 people between all of the offices, and we have had close to 213 employees through the door so we turned over about 70. Now that looks like a lot of turnover but it’s really not. In an early stage company the turnover is very high in the first three years as the company searches for the highest quality people. So a lot of the turnover happened early on. Since that time we have changed our hiring process. In the beginning, we would hire anybody. We believed that the medicine would fix anything. And we found what works in most regular businesses also works in this business. What we discovered are the same red flags that occur in regular businesses occurring in this business as well.
Crystal: What do you mean red flags?
Gerard: When someone comes to you and wants to work for you and in their regular life they haven’t held a normal job for more than two years in one company, it’s a red flag. If they were an alcoholic, drug addict and not yet been clean for a year, that’s a red flag. If they haven’t had sustainable family relationships, that could be a red flag as well. The reason that we continually wind up having better employees is because of better hiring and vetting processes. If we see someone that has some red flags but we still like them in the past we would just hire them and cross our fingers and sometimes it worked. Now they have to volunteer for six months first, prove stability, then get hired. Then once we are sure they are stable we train them to assist our guests. By the way there are 103 volunteers currently waiting to work here. So you can say there is definitely a draw to being here.
Crystal: What do you mean weather the storm?
Gerard: I mean this, look, we all have pieces of our personality that are not yet healed. I’m the first one to lead with those pieces. I tell everyone about who I am as a person in my class on Monday. I am not a thought leader, I am simply a cheerleader for a plant, a guy who went through hell to get to a place that feels right and to be able to share that with others. Now, in a regular business there are not people pulling on you to provide emotional help for them all day. In this business there are. We all have bad days, we all have dark nights of the soul, we all have our own insecurities and problems. The difference is some of us can experience it and still not lose the plot. We can weather the storm. We can be having a bad day and still help people without flipping out. Crystal, this place is a pressure cooker. I’ve had very spiritual people who wanted to contribute and moved here and by the third week of being here were crying to me and said Gerry you have to get me out of here. Not kidding you. Then there are others who thrive on it, who live for it, who love helping and have no end to their compassion. The team that we have now has either proven that they are able to weather the storm or have been vetted and are psychologically capable of being in this position. That’s why this team is so incredibly amazing.
Crystal: At the risk of upsetting you I must tell you I’ve spoken to people who have worked here in the past and found the overwhelming majority love you and a few you rubbed the wrong way. What do you have to say for the upset outliers?
Gerard: I think rubbed the wrong way is kind of an understatement. Look, I make no bones about this. When you have the law of large numbers you’re going to have people who don’t see things your way. I trust my judgement and run the business according to my judgement. I don’t have one bad thing to say about anybody who’s ever worked here. But I will say this about myself: I am no easy guy to work for and I demand excellence. When you look at this place it’s easy for people to think oh it’s some kind of utopia, just rainbows and unicorns. Nothing could be further from the truth from an employment perspective. The nature of this business is hugely demanding. I am super demanding. In certain companies people and managers side with the employees. This is NOT one of those companies. These people, our customers, come here with their hearts in their hand and trust us to deliver a miracle for them. I don’t care how difficult they are, what they say, we do not quit on anybody. And there are those who love me, really love me, and those who really don’t. Myself, I question the ones that do more than the ones that don’t. (jokingly)
Crystal: What would you say to those people that have worked for you that are critical of your style?
Gerard: So simple, we’re in a company with 150 different people. Each one of them has their own thoughts about how this place should be run. But only one of us is strapped with the responsibility of running it. This is what’s so beautiful about the United States and Costa Rica. If you don’t like the way I’m doing it you can simply take your past success and parlay it into your own center. Or go work at a center that is more aligned with you. Not once would I ever get mad at someone for doing that. And what I was talking about before about some people that are from the spiritual side that have never worked for a real company have trouble understanding this simple fact of life. In general business, nobody ever questions this. If you’re working for Sony, and you don’t like the way the CEO of Sony is running the place, you either buy the company, start your own or go work somewhere else. Nobody is forcing anybody to stay anywhere. So yes, at the end of the day, it’s my responsibility when things go wrong and it’s everybody else’s when it goes right. That’s part of being the CEO of any company. I swallowed that pill 40 years ago. I have a responsibility to the moon and our guests. And if customer experience and satisfaction are the barometer then it looks like the moon nailed it.
Crystal: Who helps you when you’re down?
Gerard: I’m lucky I am blessed with huge resources. I have the guy who personally saved my life Dr. Jeff McNairy as my Chief Medical Officer. He is an amazing person and the greatest psychologist healer I have ever seen and works as a great counterbalance for me. We have a resort manager, Jorge Varela, who is very possibly the best resort manager in this country. I have Brad Wells as ceremonial director and his story is really unique. Recently Brad sold his hugely successful company and decided to join our team not only as a shareholder but as a volunteer manager, a truly amazing guy. I have an amazing team around me. My management team consist of 14 other people, each one of them is able to carry me, some have been with me more than 25 years. I try to surround myself with greatness and retain greatness. I’m most proud of our holistic team, the real heart and soul of Rythmia. It has taken us four years to hone this team into the most cohesive healing unit I have ever seen, bar none, and they love what they do in spite of the challenges that I have illuminated here. The cherry on top is our association with Taita Juanito Chindoy who watches over and heavily influences most, if not all, of what we do from a plant medicine standpoint. His movie “The Medicine” is arguably the best documentary ever created on plant medicine and it highlights his philosophies. In my opinion he is a modern day saint and I have as much access to him as needed. I also lean heavily on our Chief Spiritual Director Mitra, he is an amazing soul and super talented healer and always ready to assist me and the whole holistic team. His recent book Insights – Steps To Truths is going to be outstanding.
Crystal: I’ve heard other criticisms like Rythmia is just for the wealthy. I’ve also heard that you only cater to celebrities and those who are powerful. What do you say to that?
Gerard: Well, we’ve had over 7500 people here and only around 75 well-known celebrities. We do have a lot of business people and people of power who come here. But that’s largely because we offer something that resonates with them. We also have many people who come here who are waiters or waitresses, younger people and older retired people. I think a lot of the chat rooms focus on only our wealthy clients and that’s only half the picture.
Crystal: What about pricing? We investigated the market and you’re the most expensive.
Gerard: I won’t apologize for our price as a matter of fact in my opinion its way too low based on the value proposition. I think from a business standpoint one of the biggest mistakes most retreat centers make is that they don’t even understand the true cost of delivering their product. We do. We believe we provide the greatest value in this space as well, even though we are the most expensive. When you calculate all of the services that we offer at the level we offer them, we believe we are priced under the market. I can’t count the number of people who have come here and at the end of the week said I would’ve paid anything knowing what I’ve got now. Here’s another clue, in business, when your client base slants to the wealthier set and they continue to pay for your product you know that it’s priced right. That segment of the community is usually the most discerning, the fussiest and the hardest to please.
Crystal: What does the future hold for Rythmia?
Gerard: We are currently doing an 81 room renovation. The rooms will have a tropical modern and yet Costa Rican feel to them. We are expanding our property and developing a new program called past life resolution (PLR) that caters to past guests of Rythmia. We will have accommodations for 18 in that sector as well as a new Maloca for them. We also have a celebrity/VIP section that will also have a music studio for recording. Our expansion will include a farm for growing our own food and for rescuing animals. Currently we do not have any plans for expanding into other territories or countries, we want to focus on what we have here.
Crystal: You have a very unique Board of Directors, how heavily do you rely on them?
Gerard: When I talk about boards I include our advisory board and our financial board. They are comprised of, author Graham Hancock, Dr. Jeff McNairy, spiritual leader Reverend Michael Bernard Beckwith, entrepreneurs Brad Wells and Toni Ko, myself and my sons Gerard and
Patrick. What makes this so unique is you have thought leaders and business people rubbing elbows for the same cause. Brad has recently sold his company and Toni sold hers for more than 500 million. I have been reasonably lucky in business myself but to be surrounded by All-Stars is priceless for me. And to have resources like Graham Hancock and Rev. Michael Beckwith wow what a gift. I constantly have sounding boards to run things by. It’s wonderful that we can pool this kind of talent and diversity into one place.
Crystal: What’s in this for you at the end of the day?
Gerard: I want this place to be a success. I took a 90% pay cut to do this business. But I have not given up on turning this into a reasonable financial success for the sole reason that the world needs more places like this. We need less bars, less casinos and more properly run healing centers.
Crystal: What would be your advice for someone starting a center like this?
Gerard: I would say this. Make sure that you have a grasp on reality, on your expenses and on what are expecting from a return standpoint. I urge you to have a really definitive business model and enough cash to make it the first five years. If you do those things and you’re diligent and surrounded by people who know what they’re doing, you can earn a decent living. If you’re doing it to get rich, you’re in the wrong business. There’s so many other ways to get rich. But if you’re doing it for satisfaction of heart then you landed in the right place. Keep true to this and you will succeed in a huge way. And if you’re innovating just expect to get huge pushback, it can be a sign you’re on the right track.
Crystal: Thank you sharing this time today. I hope that this advice helps many readers who are considering a spiritual enterprise.
Gerard: Thank you it was my great pleasure.
Rythmia is a medically-licensed everything-included resort in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. When Gerard Powell, the Founder of Rythmia, started his journey toward optimal health and total well-being he was a successful businessman. His thorough search for the purest forms of medicine and most effective ways of healing led him to create Rythmia, a life-transforming, luxury health and wellness center. Driven by the ease of awakening through alternative therapy programs versus conventional routes he decided to make it his life’s mission to show others there’s a shortcut to happiness.
About Crystal Fambrini
Crystal Fambrini is an award winning journalist and producer with more than 15 years of experience. She is a lifestyle model, creative corporate branding and personal development consultant. Crystal’s purpose is to be of service and shine a light on deserving people, causes and events so that we can learn how to grow together in the best way possible. Her focus is on do-good content that enlightens and inspires action.