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How I Made It: Peter Y. Levin

Get yourself a game plan

October 05, 2008|Dawn C. Chmielewski | Times Staff Writer

The gig: Levin is chief executive of GYL, a Santa Monica technology investment portfolio focused on digital media companies and video game platforms. He serves as a board member for online virtual world Habbo Inc.; in-game advertising company Double Fusion Inc.; Power Challenge, a maker of multi-player sports games; and game developer Mind Control Software Inc. Levin is also the founder and co-owner (along with former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka) of the Arena Football League's Chicago Rush team; a managing partner in Palisades Baseball, which owns and operates two minor league baseball teams; and minority partner in and strategic advisor to Strikeforce, a mixed martial arts promotional entity.

Background: Levin, 38, was born in New York City but has lived in Pacific Palisades since age 8. He started his entertainment career at 19 in the mail room at the Creative Artists Agency and spent more than a decade working for founder and former Chairman Michael Ovitz in the corporate advisory group, whose clients included Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Sony Corp., Nike Inc., Coca-Cola Co. and Credit Lyonnais. Levin followed Ovitz to Disney in 1996, initially joining the strategic planning group, and later, Disney Online, where he was first exposed to digital media. He joined Ovitz in the campaign to bring a National Football League team to Los Angeles, a failed effort that led to his acquisition of the Chicago Rush.

On the lessons of failure: "It was a big reality check for me," Levin said of the unsuccessful NFL bid. "Because we focused on things like why wouldn't the NFL want to be in L.A.? It's the second-largest market in the U.S., it's the gateway to the Pacific Rim, at the time it was the world's 11th-largest economy. We began to drink our own Kool-Aid, and it was a humbling experience. At the end of the day, Houston came up with a much more financially compelling package. And now, as an owner of a team, it's easy for me to understand why the owners voted for the bird in the hand versus two in the bush."

Personal: Married to TV personality Gia Russo of TLC's lifestyle makeover series "Real Simple. Real Life." They have a 3-year-old son.

Education: Studied at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and at USC.

How a sumo wrestler gave Levin his big break: Levin's work in Japan on behalf of K-1, the "NFL of martial arts," led him to represent Hawaiian-born sumo wrestler Akebono Taro. The 480-pound champion opened doors for the deal-maker in Japan, putting him on the radar screen of media heavyweights including Yoshimoto Kogyo, one of the most powerful content-producing and talent firms in the country. This relationship has paid dividends for the companies Levin assists. For example, Santa Clara-based chip maker Intel Corp. invested in Bellrock Media Inc., a company Levin co-founded and ran in the U.S., viewing this investment as their "entree into the mainstream" of Japanese media.

Have you embraced the Japanese concept of keiretsu? "The idea is to work with companies that are interrelated enough that they can aid each other to achieve their respective goals, without cannibalizing other businesses," Levin said. So, when in-game advertising company Double Fusion raised its second round of financing, it brought in major media players, including Time Warner Inc. and Hearst Corp., as well as Japanese investors.

How did you feel when the Chicago Rush won the ArenaBowl XX in 2006: "If I could bottle up that feeling of that 15 minutes after the whistle blew and the confetti dropped, I would be an incredibly, stupidly wealthy person," Levin said. "Other than my son being born, I have to say, from an adrenaline standpoint, it was like nothing I've ever experienced. Pure joy."

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dawn.chmielewski@latimes.com

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Got an idea for How I Made It, a feature that appears in Business every Sunday? Send it to howimadeit@latimes.com.

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