New Kripalu CEO aims to broaden wellness center's appeal
STOCKBRIDGE -- With a goal of extending its reach into the Berkshire community while expanding existing services, the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health -- about to celebrate its 30th anniversary here this December -- has named its third new leader since 2010.
For Queens, N.Y., native David Lipsius, 44, a former NBC Universal executive in Manhattan, the stakes as chief executive officer are high and intensely personal.
As one of South Berkshire's largest employers, with 497 people on the payroll -- 223 full-time and the rest part-time -- the nonprofit wields major economic clout. With the staff count up 20 percent since 2009, Lipsius believes the current level is "right-sized."
The carefully landscaped, 150-acre, 247-room facility just south of Tanglewood attracts about 36,000 annual visitors, up from 32,000 in 2009, and was in the black by $2.43 million last year, with revenue totaling $32.5 million.
Kripalu is full most weekends year-round, though there's some room to expand midweek visitation, Lipsius said.
Lipsius, a Lenox resident, officially assumes the position on Sept. 24 after transitional work with Richard Faulds, the current interim CEO, former board chairman and legal counsel.
A top priority for Lipsius is to broaden the appeal of Kripalu, which he emphasized is not a destination "New Age" resort for casual weekend visitors, but an educational institution that fosters a "transformational experience."
But, he emphasized during a conversation on Wednesday in his office overlooking Stockbridge Bowl, "everyone is welcome. Kripalu is special because it feels like home to people when they come here. They come for lots of different reasons, and we're not assuming that it's only for yoga education. People come for simple rest and relaxation from the ‘busy-ness' of their lives."
"Our success and our growth has been an indication that we're actually found that sweet spot of being open to more people than we have been in the past," he said. "My measure for success will be about the impact we're having on people's lives."
‘Serve the under-served'
A major goal, Lipsius said, is to serve economically disadvantaged area residents: "It's a huge priority. Kripalu has a responsibility to serve the under-served."
Intent on influencing local youth, Kripalu is teaching stress-relief at Pittsfield and Taconic High; the Pittsfield school for at-risk youth; Monument Valley and Monument Mountain in Great Barrington; and Mount Everett in Sheffield.
There are day programs and meal passes for local residents, Lipsius said.
Tanglewood Music Center Fellows can attend yoga sessions, and discounts are offered to full-time Boston Symphony staff.
"We have a great, beautiful partnership with Tanglewood, so the invitation is absolutely open all the time," he said. "The relationship has really taken off this year, we've made a deeper commitment to them."
Describing an "incredible 16-year career at NBC," Lipsius recalled that he had "started as an intern in a department I ended up running, and I had accomplished almost everything I had wanted to accomplish in that field." He was involved creatively in news and entertainment, as well as marketing.
‘Near death' experience
Lipsius arrived at Kripalu following a "near-death" experience. He suffered multiple severe injuries after he was struck by a car while bicycling on Long Island in June 2011. He spent two months in bed recovering from a broken collarbone and shoulder injuries, with periodic visits to specialists.
"I was surprised to have survived the accident, but I did, thankfully," he remarked.
He had become heavily involved in yoga after an earlier visit to Nepal. The branch of Hindu philosophy is defined as "physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines which originated in ancient India with a view to attain a state of permanent peace."
As he put it, "Over time, I became more and more connected to the idea that perhaps my future didn't lie in getting more people to watch television."
Two years ago, Lipsius left NBC and was about to move to Sedona, Ariz., for a full-time position at a yoga school when disaster struck.
Facing several surgeries, he attended a month-long Kripalu program in August 2011 to study yoga therapy and healing arts.
"It changed my life in so many beautiful ways," he said.
Reluctant to leave, he applied for a job, feeling that "if it's meant to be to serve yoga in this way, someone might notice my résumé, and if not, I'll head back to New York and do my thing."
Within a few weeks, his application attracted the attention of then-CEO David Surrenda, who hired him as vice president of operations. Surrenda's 18-month tenure ended last October for undisclosed reasons. Lipsius was promoted to chief operating officer.
"The healing power of yoga and its sister science, ayurveda, have played a huge role in my recovery," Lipsius said. Lipsius met his future wife, Larissa, at Kripalu, where she has been teaching yoga for 10 years.
Many categories of visitors
Visitors, he explained, include categories such as "Explorers, people investigating their own human experience anything from yoga to shamanism to angels to positive psychology to nutrition, health, on and on. We aim to serve all of them, whatever people need."
"Deepeners," Lipsius said, are people "truly on the path of yoga or ayurveda" and are served by the "eight-limbed path of yoga, a 5,000-year-old technology and tradition that says there are ways to transform your experience as a human being."
An additional category, "Multipliers," includes yoga teachers "who might inspire social movement through the education they receive here. People who come to this center have the ability to move out into the world and then share that with society as a whole."
"Through them," Lipsius declared, "we think we can change the world."
Kripalu center: By the numbers ...
- Annual visitors: 36,000
- Rooms: 247 (504 beds)
- Daily visitor capacity: 625
- Staff: 497 (223 full-time)
- Total expenses: $30,075,000
- Total revenue: $32,505,000
- Surplus: $2,430,000
- Total payroll: $15,435,000
- Liabilities: $25,367,000
- Assets: $47,182,000.
- Annual payments-in-lieu-of-taxes to Stockbridge: $34,964
Source: IRS filing, tax year 2012.
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