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David Murdock: A New Twist on Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise

Americans will spend more than a $1 trillion on healthcare this year and some government studies show that more than half that money is spent in the last ten days of a patient's life.

One of the most fascinating entrepreneurs I've had the chance to interview is ready to reverse that and is willing to put a boatload of money where his mouth is.

"It is my passion, no question about that," says 83-year-old David Murdock.

Maybe you've heard of him, but probably not. He is the sole owner of mega fruits and vegetable company Dole Foods, real estate developer Castle & Cooke, he owns the Sherwood Country Club in Southern California, 12 million square feet of residential and commercial real estate in the United States, employs more than 63,000 people, and, ummmm, he also owns the entire Hawaiian Island of Lanai!

But his latest venture is called the WellBeing Institute, a $450 million project he just opened inside the swanky Four Seasons Hotel in Woodland Hills, Calif., and directly across the street from the red-brick adorned world headquarters of Dole Foods. Just what is this place?

Murdock hopes it becomes the flagship, one-stop shop for all things healthy. But it goes a big step further: Clients check in and can take care of almost all their major diagnosis sessions: MRIs, x-Rays, Mammography's, Colonoscopies, bone-density scans, blood work, dentistry and so much more. All done by what Murdock says are world-renowned experts, and all accomplished on the world's most state-of-the-art equipment. In fact, the center is a beta-testing site for all of General Electric's (the parent of this network) hospital technology. It's not just about the technology. Designers have paid attention to every detail. This glass is leaded. That means no more solid walls for technicians doing mammography's or x-rays. It's a small detail but it preserves that personal connection between healthcare provider and patient. Diagnosis rooms are comfortably decorated with comfy chairs and sofas and 36-inch flat-panel televisions. Traditional hospital gowns are replaced by Four Seasons robes instead. Healthcare gone upscale and the kind of approach that Murdock thinks will get reluctant patients to a doctor BEFORE they situation turns serious.

So, the practical experience is, you check in, run some tests, consult with some experts, head up to your Four Seasons Suite, relax, the next day you can take the dietary guidance you got the day before and learn how to cook healthy meals in cooking classes at the Four Seasons. You find out your body-fat content is too high? Head over to the 40,000 square foot Four Seasons spa and develop a work-out regimen customized just for you by a trainer affiliated with the WellBeing Institute.

"I would say the average person takes better care of their cars, inside and outside, than they do their bodies, inside and outside," says Murdock.

The WellBeing Institute is part of a fast-growing trend of privately owned, high-end healthcare retreats for those who can afford them. But Murdock says the high costs (prices start at $2,800 for a 3-day stay and a few diagnostic tests) will come down and this kind of approach to healthcare -- health maintenance instead of healthcare -- will catch on and be available, and affordable to everyone.

"Our goal here is to find people when they're well, and keep them well instead of treat people when they're sick," says Dr. Andrew Conrad, a geneticist who serves as the Institute's director.

And the Four Seasons calls this facility completely unique in the world, and a powerful selling-point to potential customers looking for an unusual kind of vacation, or creative offerings above and beyond what a normal hotel would provide.

"It is impossible not to buy into the concept of live-longer, better, take care of yourself," says Thomas Gurtner, Four Seasons vice president and general manager. "I actually lost ten pounds! I walk the talk!"

It's not just Murdock exploring opportunities in healthcare. The super-rich see huge opportunities in high-end healthcare. AOL's former CEO Steve Case is investing millions in yoga centers, and his partner on the massive, $200 billion Time Warner/AOL merger, Jerry Levin, created the Moonview Sanctuary along with wife, Dr. Laurie Levin.

"This is about the personal stories of people's lives. It's what they live with. It's themselves, it's their identity," says Levin who said he's recovered from a steep, emotional tailspin following the murder of his son Jonathan in 1997, the unraveling of his massive merger with AOL which shaved more than $100 billion from Time Warner's market cap, and the aftermath of 9/11 which he says hit him particularly hard. He says a high-end healthcare retreat like Moonview would have been something that could have lead to a far faster spiritual and emotional recovery for him.

Meantime, David Murdock is spending nearly a half-billion dollars of his own money with a new twist on being "healthy, wealthy and wise."

"We have everything here that it takes for getting healthy, maintaining health, and increasing the lifespan," he says.

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