Hagar Cohen: Landmark Education is a global for-profit company with courses and adherents in 55 locations around the world, including Australia.
The product is personal transformation, and more than one-million people worldwide have already attended their courses.
Its critics say they have concerns about Landmark's business model and its reliance on volunteers. It's also true that many people say volunteering and doing the courses has transformed their lives for the better.
From Perth, Saani Bennetts volunteered with Landmark for five years.
Saani Bennetts: It is like a high, it's like a buzz. You walk into a Landmark program, and there's an almost tangible buzz. It's almost like you can reach out and pluck something out of the air, or touch it. There's this electricity. You know, it's a buzz and you can sort of almost feel it in your body, vibrating, this level of excitement and enthusiasm and inspiration. And for some people, it freaks them out, because they're just so not used to that in the world. But for a lot of people they go, 'Oh, wow', and of course it's not a drug, but it can be, it's a high, it's a rush. It's like, 'Oh yes, ye-ye-ye, woohoo - oh no, crash and burn, oh, ye-ye-ye yes, I've had a breakthrough! Ye-woo-woo. So for many people they do not know anywhere else in their lives where they can get that.
Hagar Cohen: Hello and welcome to Background Briefing on ABC Radio National. I'm Hagar Cohen.
Saani Bennetts is one of the many people we spoke to who found their Landmark experience life changing. Part of the philosophy is that participants are encouraged to reveal everything, to face that their life is meaningless and then to create a new meaning.
Dale Dickens from Melbourne, has a personal story to share.
Dale Dickens: My relationship with my mother has been an issue like for my whole life. So she's a single Mum, my father left when I was really young, and her way of life was about showing me all her tricks, like what she knew, she had to teach us for when she was going to die, then there's be nobody there for us. So she had to show us everything. And it was a really controlling environment. So I didn't speak up to my Mum. All I had in my power to do was to leave. So I left when I was 16.
Hagar Cohen: Landmark's policy about sharing helped Dale Dickens. She became more confident with herself.
Dale Dickens: There was no space anywhere for me prior to Landmark, to talk to anybody about that. So once I started to open up, it's like a release of energy. Withholding, or holding on to information, it does have an effect on the body. and once it's released, I became more open and I liked that.
Hagar Cohen: Sharing is a big part of Landmark Education's philosophy. Tung Vu did the forum ten years ago and is still involved in Landmark today as a volunteer. For Tung Vu sharing means talking about Landmark's benefits. He says he feels it's important to share his enthusiasm with the people around him.
Tung Vu: Look, I really enjoy it. It's the same as if you've seen a great movie or been on a great holiday, or had anything that you really enjoyed. I mean I'd say that the Landmark Forum was the single most valuable weekend that I've spent, particularly in a course, if I could pick one; and basically that's it, because I've got so many benefits that I could apply to so many different areas in life, well basically all my life, whether it's my family life, my business, my relationships with family, relationships with friends, it's a really useful course. And so that's what inspires me to let people know about it whenever I consider that might be appropriate.
Hagar Cohen: Problems can arise for some participants when the philosophy morphs into a recruitment drive. Our research found that people who do the courses, which can cost anything between $80 to more than $1,000, are encouraged to enrol as many people as possible. They're told this is an important part of their breakthrough or personal transformation to be whole and complete.
Saani Bennetts: The philosophy behind that is if you have a breakthrough in one area, or you face, you do something that is challenging for you, or that you find difficult, or that you're afraid of, then it will translate into other areas of your life. And certainly that can be true. However, people were told, you know, you need to register in order to have a breakthrough for yourself, rather than you need to register because this is how Landmark operates and this is what we want to achieve as a business. Which was actually the case. If you say to somebody, you know, listen, this is our business and we need to register this many people to have the business be viable and achieve what our goals and achieve what you want to achieve, do you want to be part of that? And people say, 'Sure', then hey, you know, there's no problem. But it's when you are getting people to do that who don't want to be part of that, who don't want to do that, but who do want some other aspects of Landmark Education, and you're telling them that it's for their own benefit, that I think that there's a problem.
Hagar Cohen: Landmark Education says this nexus between achieving a personal breakthrough through recruitment of other people to Landmark, is not policy. Global Director for Training Delivery, and spokesperson for Landmark Education is Dr Nancy Zapolski.
Nancy Zapolski: I wouldn't connect those two at all. There are breakthroughs all over our programs, provide people with the opportunity for breakthroughs. Like a discontinuous, unpredictable non-linear results in areas in their life that are important to them, and I would certainly not at all equate breakthrough, with registering people into the Landmark forum. Unless, now I'm just thinking about something, I mean many people participate in the forum, they really want to share it with somebody in their life. Their parents, their children, their acquaintances, their bosses and neighbours, and it's really - I wouldn't characterise it as a breakthrough, but it's really an accomplishment, like it's touching for them to be able to share something that was important to them, with somebody that's important in their life.
Hagar Cohen: Many of your own supporters which I spoke to, say that a breakthrough will be achieved by enrolling more people into Landmark.
Nancy Zapolski: That may be their experience. That they had a breakthrough by enrolling people into the Landmark forum. But I wouldn't equate that. There's just so many opportunities for breakthroughs in all of the programs that we offer that that's just you know, that may be a personal experience of the people that you spoke to, but it's not something that is commonly spoken about.
Hagar Cohen: Landmark Education grew out of Est, a famous personal development group from the '70s in the US. It became controversial in the late '80s, especially after a critical American '60 Minutes' program and a book called 'Outrageous Betrayal' about Werner Erhard was published in 1993.
In 1991, Werner Erhard sold the rights to the courses to his employees. Shortly after doing that, Mr Erhard left the US. His brother, Harry Rosenberg was one of those employees, and today he is the CEO of Landmark Education.
Since then, Landmark Education has always stated that Erhard's connections with Landmark are minimal. Landmark Education has an unusual business model that continues to attract attention, mostly for the way it has contractual work agreements with volunteers, and concerns by some for what is seen is their hard-selling methods.
A Landmark Education graduate website says that there are currently almost 12,000 volunteers around the world. They sign what is called an assisting agreement with Landmark Education. It details what the person commits to when working or assisting with Landmark Education, the hours they should spend, the responsibilities they should fulfil, and some agreements have targets for the number of new people to be registered or enrolled.
Businessman Jon Post.
Jon Post: There was a point in my life where I had no community or volunteer involvement. And so when I heard about the landmark assisting program and I came to appreciate how Landmark delivered their work was with a very small skeleton staff, and a relatively large organisation of these - I don't like to call them volunteers because that insinuates a sort of a casual kind of relationship, and it's anything but. But these assisting program workers, I thought oh yes, sure, why not?
Hagar Cohen: So you could actually compare Landmark to a charity?
Jon Post: I guess I did.
Hagar Cohen: The First Forum runs for Friday, Saturday and Sunday and again the following Tuesday evening. During the last evening, guests are invited, and they'll be encouraged to register to the Forum themselves. Jon Post brought with him three guests.
Jon Post: Well, there I was at the most elated point in the forum experience, having created things in my life, ostensibly created things in my life that didn't exist a few days earlier, and feeling impregnable enough myself. And so I figured that there was enough good in it, that it was worth sharing.
Hagar Cohen: After completing a number of courses, Jon Post agreed to volunteer and signed an assisting agreement with Landmark.
Jon Post: I accepted the role of Production Supervisor for an upcoming Landmark Forum, which meant I suppose, more hours per week than a typical assisting agreement contract would involve. You could say an event management kind of a role. That was quite attractive to me, I mean I like the idea of the logistics and putting on a show, I suppose, which is kind of what it was about, although it was going to be a glamorous thing, and certainly it wasn't.
Hagar Cohen: Why? What did you actually have to do?
Jon Post: There's all sorts of little chores that go on, many menial things. A few weeks out from the forum, the staff of the Melbourne centre found out that I hadn't been successful in bringing the team together that I was supposed to have. So, there we were, getting close to the 11th hour, I'm having to make calls to strangers and read them the riot act about commitments that they'd made, because it is a contractual thing, no money changes hands in an assisting agreement, but you're saying you're going to do this. It's only open to people who've completed the forum, so they are already well versed in the teachings of Landmark, the importance of integrity, the absolute importance of being your word, and they've made these commitments and you had to call them on it. And there was nothing they could say that would be an excuse.
Hagar Cohen: Many people agreed to assist for Landmark because they want to e4xperience the forum again, says Jon Post.
Jon Post: Again, there's that personal appeal that I had to make to other people to get them to commit to helping to run a forum. It was going to be their opportunity to live Landmark, to be Landmark in a pure way, and that turned out not to hold that much, not be that compelling or satisfying for me. Very quickly, in the weeks up to that first forum which I produced, I realised that what I got myself into was a hell of a lot of work, very strict adherence to processes and policy, there was going to be no holiday.
Hagar Cohen: And the kinds of jobs Jon Post and his team had to do weren't all that glamorous.
Jon Post: Assembling pamphlets, keeping the bathrooms clean, changing paper towels, garbage, cleaning up, all that kind of stuff. Fastidious work that needs to happen and you can't just sit there being a participant.
Hagar Cohen: The volunteers are very committed to Landmark Education, says Jon Post, and that's why they agree to follow through their volunteering agreements.
Jon Post: The best way to get that unparalleled behaviour and commitment out of someone is an emotional appeal that they'll do it for love or for passion because of their belief system. Far more intrinsically motivating than money can ever be. I don't think you could pay me enough money to behave like that. The only reason that I would do it is because it was part of my belief or part of my faith.
Hagar Cohen: People from outside of Landmark who would not know the language and jargon used by people participating in Landmark sessions were not employed. All conversations during the forum, Jon Post was told, had to be about Landmark's concepts of transformation. Jon Post.
Jon Post: I just think it's part of amplifying the intensity of the whole weekend. So the people are really surrounded, they really do absorb it, it's their via osmosis everywhere that they turn over the three days. It's all part of, I guess, ingraining that terminology and approach and point of view in people.
Hagar Cohen: And you see that as a positive thing?
Jon Post: I see that as an effective way of instilling learning outcomes.
Hagar Cohen: Landmark Education has a different perspective on why outsiders aren't employed during the forum. Their Global Director for Training Delivery says these kinds of jobs give volunteers an increased awareness of their environment. Dr Nancy Zapolski.
Nancy Zapolski: As an assistant in the Landmark Forum, one of the things it is really important to have the room be neat, to have things be really impeccable so that the participants don't have to have any attention on anything other than getting their work done in the Landmark forum. So oftentimes, when the participants are on a break, the people that assist will make sure that the hallway - clean up extra papers from the hallways, or clean up, you know things that the participants might leave around so that it's neat and really impeccable, a place of just really workability.
Hagar Cohen: But it is essentially the assistant's job to do the cleaning during that time?
Nancy Zapolski: Yes, people that assist on the production team are just picking up papers and things like that, yes.
But no-one does housekeeping at all. If you kind of imagine, I don't know if you can just sort of imagine people that have maybe left their cups in a hallway or something as they were drinking coffee, or papers on the floor, will just walk through and pick things up so that it looks neat. Nobody does housekeeping per se, or cleaning per se.
Hagar Cohen: Well you said that the assisting agreement helps people to produce outstanding results within their own lives. How do doing jobs like that help people produce outstanding results?
Nancy Zapolski: Oh, I can tell you, it's kind of funny. I can share from my personal experience. But you know, it's really interesting. Oftentimes, people are busy, and are working, and we kind of go through life a little bit blind to our environment, and I can tell you that when you're aware of your environment, and you're aware of the difference that an impeccable environment makes, it not only makes a difference in the Landmark Forum, but it really filters into your life.
Hagar Cohen: Volunteers' responsibilities extend from picking up the rubbish, to office and administrative work, coaching, and selling courses. Background Briefing has seen excerpts of the forum supervisor's manual that was used in a 2005 court case in the US. The manual provides instructions about how to supervise a Landmark Forum. Landmark volunteers told Background Briefing that today the manual is a bit different because the terminology has since changed, but the concepts are identical. Here are two small excerpts edited from the court transcripts.
Reader: The whole job is enrolment. When you come in to greet the team for the first time, you need to hit the ground running. There's only enrolment. You're either going to get enrolled or you're going to do the enrolling.
Hagar Cohen: The forum supervisors are usually volunteers, and they're told to get rid of any prejudice they might have against selling courses to new people.
Success is measured numerically and handed in as statistics about the number of new people enrolled.
Reader: The result to produce is around a seminar enrolment. The measure is the number of people that continue on in the Curriculum for Living and in this case it is the seminar. The statistics will be percent enrolled in the seminar.
Hagar Cohen: Background Briefing attended an information evening organised by Landmark Education in Sydney where the guests were encouraged to enrol to the forum. During the evening, the presenter mentioned that the Harvard Business School wrote a case study about Landmark Education's business practices. We contacted Harvard to verify, and received an email in return which said:
Reader: Cases are, for pedagogical purposes only, serving as a basis for classroom discussion, rather than to illustrate effective or ineffective use of an administrative setting. Cases do not in any way constitute an endorsement of any product or service. Landmark was ignoring this dictum, and as a result at the school's insistence, had to offer a clarification in a press release dated September 4th, 1998.
Hagar Cohen: The same disclaimer about the case study not being an endorsement of Landmark appears on Landmark Education websites. The ABC received several letters from Landmark Education and in one, under the title 'Facts about the value and benefit of Landmark Education and its programs' Landmark listed the case study by the Harvard Business School about Landmark. We had asked the Harvard Business School about this way of using the case study. Here is a reading from their reply.
Reader: This would be a matter of concern, and yes, I will confer with the appropriate people at HBS, and at Harvard University, to see how we would go about requiring them to cease and desist.
Hagar Cohen: Landmark Education says its reputation is high. As evidence, they cite a number of well-known Australians who have done the forum. Dr Nancy Zapolski.
Nancy Zapolski: And we really do enjoy a really positive reputation around the world as one of the top personal training and development companies in the world. And included in this 1-million people that have participated in the forum, are some really, really Australian luminaries like your Gold Medal winners, Cathy Freeman and Natalie Cook, and Vice-Admiral David Shackleton.
Hagar Cohen: Background Briefing contacted these people to confirm. Cathy Freeman's spokesperson told us Ms Freeman has not given permission to Landmark to use her name and that she considers her participation or lack of it, personal, and does not want her name associated with Landmark. Volleyball gold medallist Natalie Cook and Vice Admiral David Shackleton were happy to give support to the Landmark Forum.
On the internet, the Transformational Reform Group is made up with a number of Landmark Education members who want to reform the company from the inside. They're graduates of Landmark who received great value from the seminars. Most are still involved as volunteers, or course participants. The founder is known only by the initials, M.L., and he wants to remain anonymous because he still volunteers for Landmark from time to time. Background Briefing has verified his identity.
The concerns of M.L., he says, are partly to do with the way Landmark teaches graduates to deal with criticism He's on the phone from his home town in California.
M.L.: What'll happens is if someone raises a criticism, instead of people addressing the criticism, they'll ask the person, Why are you raising an issue like that? For example if I was sceptical about Landmark's finances, if people would ask me if I'm too sceptical in other parts of my life, and if that's something that's holding me back from living a powerful life. I was asked many times, they would just tell me Can you get off if it and just appreciate the education and focus on having this more powerful life.
Hagar Cohen: The reform movement has about 160 people from all over the world, including Australia, who have signed a petition. The founder, M.L., says in his experience, Landmark seminars' main focus is registration, not transformation.
M.L.: This is really the first thing that struck me very strongly as something that I wanted to work on. I was in the Landmark Forum, and it's a very intense weekend course. It goes from, say 9 in the morning until 10 at night for several days in a row. It's a very exciting weekend, it's a very intense weekend. People are talking about issues in a very deep and personal issues about themselves, and at the end of this 3-day weekend, the forum leaders will talk about registering for new course, and they can be quite intense about this. My forum leader raised his voice quite strongly. And I think I had concerns about the appropriateness of having people who were very excited and confused and tired, and have just taken in a lot of new information, and at that point pitching them a new course. You know, I think it's inappropriate to sell a new course to people who are in a vulnerable state.
Hagar Cohen: There's also a blog and a Yahoo talks group for the members to be in touch with each other. The CEO of Landmark Education, Harry Rosenberg, responded to their petition, and said that Landmark has taken their concerns on board and will consider changes. But M.L. says nothing has changed in three years. As a private company, Landmark Education is legally obliged to give only limited disclosure about its financial affairs. Nevertheless the reform group is still calling for increasing transparency and openness in the organisation.
M.L.: I think it's really essential.
Hagar Cohen: Landmark is a for-profit company. Why do you think it ought to make its financial information available to the graduate community, the assistants and the people on staff?
M.L.: For many, many years, Landmark course leaders and participants talking to people who they wanted to bring into Landmark so that Landmark is not at all about money. They would say that all profits are reinvested into growing the business, and that Landmark does charity events like hosting courses in Africa and in prisons. So Landmark presented itself essentially as a non-profit business, but they never disclosed or confirmed these facts.
Hagar Cohen: The founder of Landmark's reform group is known as M.L., and he's speaking there on the phone from California.
But Landmark Education says it is transparent. It states on its website that it is a for-profit company and that it's owned by its employees. Spokesperson, Dr Nancy Zapolski.
Nancy Zapolski: In 2008 Landmark Education's revenues were about $89-million. Our primary expenses are, oh goodness: real estate, travel, telecommunications, personnel. In the years where there were surpluses, we the employees voted, and we voted to invest these surpluses into making Landmark programs and services more widely available, you know, including providing scholarships for the Landmark Forum, or policemen, fire-fighters and clergy is really in most countries around the world, and also by the way, we are presently offering full scholarships to anyone who lost their homes in the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria.
Hagar Cohen: But my question is, why not open up this documentation and prove these claims once and for all?
Nancy Zapolski: It's completely available. Like any company, we're very transparent. And it's a privately owned company. But you know, people have come to us and we're open and transparent, as I said.
Hagar Cohen: Background Briefing asked Landmark to provide evidence by way of documentation of the scholarships it funds. Landmark Education sent us a reply which stated that their scholarships are offered by word of mouth and that no records are kept of who has accepted.
Landmark says that around 22,000 people participate in Landmark courses every year in Australia, which is about 10% of Landmark's total business.
In Perth, Saani Bennetts, who we heard from earlier, has left Landmark after five years as a volunteer. And overall, she says, she loved it.
Saani Bennetts: I think I gained a much greater self awareness as to the way I think, the way I operate, my motivations, what drives me, my fears and also ways to overcome those fears. I certainly have gained a lot from Landmark Education.
Hagar Cohen: Saani Bennets assisted in various roles, but she liked volunteer coaching the most.
Saani Bennetts: It probably adds up to at least 12 hours a week I would say, for someone coaching. It's a fairly big time commitment.
Hagar Cohen: And you didn't mind making that commitment?
Saani Bennetts: I didn't mind making that commitment. I mean I was single and I didn't have any children, I was working as a teacher at the time, and so those hours fitted in mostly pretty well. You know, most of the time I really enjoyed it, but I think some of the assisting agreements can put a huge demand on people.
Hagar Cohen: Soon after starting her volunteer coaching role, Saani Bennets says she discovered that it wasn't all about transformation. Part of Saani Bennets' role was to encourage participants to have home introductions. By the end of these get-togethers, the guests are given the opportunity to register to a Landmark forum. These early home evenings are part of the course requirement.
Saani Bennetts: After a while it was just not - not in integrity for me to do that, to tell people that 'OK, you need to have a home introduction. You need to have an introductory seminar'. To actually push people when they said No, I do not want to do that, that's not something I want to do.
Hagar Cohen: and did you push?
Saani Bennetts: I did, at times. Certainly anyone who's listening, I'm sorry if I didn't. To be honest there probably were times when I didn't respect people's choices because of that pressure to, or the culture of it, or whatever, you know, of being required to do that.
Hagar Cohen: Another volunteer who didn't want to be interviewed, showed Background Briefing a copy of what is called an assisting agreement which is signed by those called 'introduction leaders'. Here's a reading of parts of the agreement.
Reader: I promise that as part of my training and development to be available all weekends and to have two agreements each week.
Hagar Cohen: Statistics are to be filled in on a weekly basis, and they include:
- ) Total number of people you spoke to.
- ) Total number of applications
- ) Telephone effectiveness as a percentage
- ) Number of completed Forum applications.
- ) Total number of retracted applications.
- ) Registration effectiveness as a percentage.
Here again is Saani Bennets.
Saani Bennetts: I did get to a point where I felt that there were things that were being asked of people who assist that really should have been dealt with by staff people, paid employees. They're the sort of measures that you're required to meet, you know, you're required to actually register a certain number of people into the Landmark Forum, and to complete a certain number of phone calls on behalf of Landmark, and things like that, in order to complete the program successfully.
Hagar Cohen: To become an introduction leader, volunteers have to register people into courses. The Introduction Leadership Program manual has the details. A copy of it was shown to Background Briefing by one other Landmark graduate. Here is a reading of part of it.
Reader: The participants are developing themselves in the following areas:
- Their personal integrity;
- An ability to operate from their commitment versus their thoughts and feelings;
- Generating excitement;
- Being familiar with the particles of enrolment (being in guest rooms and being on the phone)
- A powerful relationship to statistics.
Hagar Cohen: Saani Bennets doesn't like selling. She left because her own values were in conflict with Landmark's business model.
Saani Bennetts: For me, what it comes down to is the fact that Landmark is promoting itself as a transformational organisation, an organisation that provides services and programs that transform people's lives, that are cutting-edge in the world and leading edge. And I think that there's a gross misalignment of what their values are and what their stated purpose is and how they're conducting themselves as a business. It just doesn't match, and I think that's where a lot of people, myself included, do become disillusioned, because we want them to walk their talk.
Hagar Cohen: But Landmark Education says volunteers aren't pressured at all to sell for Landmark. Dr Nancy Zapolski says volunteers and Landmark participants are not encouraged to sell, they're only told to share their Landmark experience. When people are told to enrol others, Dr Zapolski says, it really means to share. That's why she's not too worried about the concerns of some volunteers.
Nancy Zapolski: It's not a matter of concern at all. In a sense is that we invite participants to share the results that they've gotten out of the Landmark Forum with people in their life. Some of them choose to do that, some of them don't choose to do that. And it's very moving, I know, for people whenever they do have people in their life participate because it has made such a difference for them, that when they share it with someone else and have that person participate, it's really, it's just really moving.
Hagar Cohen: The people who sign these agreements do so because they believe they're contributing to the community. Dale Dickens from Melbourne was involved with Landmark for six years. She started as a volunteer, but was so good at selling courses that she was made a registration manager and that was a paid position. In Perth at the time, there were 4.5 paid people on staff and around 150 volunteers. Initially, she loved her job, says Dale Dickens.
Dale Dickens: there was a point where I thought that it was the learning program that was going to transform the world, absolutely. Absolutely, I thought it was it.
Hagar Cohen: Dale Dickens says she worked for the experience, and didn't care about the money. She signed a contract for a permanent position to work from 9am to 10pm Monday to Friday, and then 9am to 10pm on Saturday for a salary of $24,000 a year.
Her enthusiasm for Landmark she says, came from her belief in Landmark's ability to help people's lives. She expected this would be reflected in her job. Dale Dickens says in reality her typical day as a Landmark employee was selling under a lot of pressure.
Dale Dickens: Every week each centre hands in and faxes statistics off to America to the head office to record how many people have registered into programs. So every day we had a target to make sure that we would reach our target by Friday, Friday 3 o'clock.
Hagar Cohen: You'd have daily targets or weekly targets?
Dale Dickens: Well we had quarterly targets, broken down into months, broken down into weeks, broken down to days, and there was also a point where it got broken down into hours. So being micromanaged to look at the results that were being produced every hour. Not fun.
Hagar Cohen: As a full time employee, Dale Dickens says she felt that Landmark's business model is entirely dependent on the graduates.
Dale Dickens: To be behind the scenes and see how it really operated, it was just mind-blowing.
Hagar Cohen: Tell me what was mind-blowing?
Dale Dickens: The degree to which it is organised, and how interconnected all of the courses are, how they basically feed from one another. So they have milestones to meet at the end of each quarter. The business actually runs by the graduates. I was looking at it, I think it's totally dependent on the people who are graduates to register more people into it. It's an ingenious design, it really is, I think it would be the envy of most corporations.
Hagar Cohen: Other graduates told Background Briefing that they felt they were responsible for the success of the business. But Landmark says the company does not rely on assistants' work. Martin Leaf is Landmark's Corporate and Legal Officer.
Martin Leaf: The fact is that Landmark does not require in any way, financial or in any other way, any assistants to do anything, it just doesn't. Its business will go on quite well. We spend a fair amount of money to train assistants. We have no unpaid staff, I guess that's my point. There is no unpaid staffers, no unpaid employees of Landmark. There isn't, there hasn't been and there never will be
Hagar Cohen: Martin Leaf.
Behind the scenes, Dale Dickens says she was surprised when she learned more and more about Landmark's business model. It just didn't match the image she had in mind of an altruistic organisation. Noticing her confusion, Dale says her manager explained that she should compare the participants to widgets. A widget is a computer term for a software which can be moved from one device to another. In this case and other business training course, it is the people who need to be moved.
Dale Dickens: My manager at one point said, Just think of these people as widgets; 'It's your job to move these widgets from one place to another', and I just couldn't get what she was talking about. I had no idea. And somebody else on staff took me outside and he said, 'So, it's like widgets, you just move these numbers from one place to the other. And I just, I still, I was just shocked that's how it all went.
Hagar Cohen: Landmark doesn't make a secret out of being a private company. Why did it surprise you when you realised that it is a corporation like any other?
Dale Dickens: For myself as a participant, I experienced a spiritual growth, and I thought that the corporation, I know it sounds really weird in saying it, I thought the corporation had a spiritual aspect.
Hagar Cohen: Landmark Education's business model has attracted scrutiny from labour authorities in several countries. In America, there were three government investigations looking at volunteering, and allegations of underpaying staff members. As a result of two of those investigations, Landmark Education was made to pay backwages of nearly $US200,000 for 46 staff members.
In 2003, a French journalist secretly filmed the Landmark Forum with a hidden camera. His program aired in 2004 and caused consternation at the time. A few weeks after that program aired on France 3 television, government labour investigators inspected Landmark's Paris offices. They wrote a report, including their concerns about the way volunteers were used. A month after that inspection, Landmark closed its operation in Paris, and the French government didn't continue their investigation.
The documentary had some disturbing elements. Formally, Landmark replied on their website to the French Channel 3 program by saying that it -
Reader: ... used tactics, including lying, manipulating, usually illegally obtained material and intentionally presented material out of context.
Hagar Cohen: There was also a documentary made in Sweden in 2003. It secretly filmed a forum in Stockholm, and the leader in that seminar was Australian. She delivered the forum with the help of a Swedish translator. Here are some excerpts.
Leader: You're ready? You're a machine! And your life is empty and meaningless. Would you like to share what's opening up so far?
Hagar Cohen: The reporter on this program on Sweden's TV4 was Joachim Dyfvermark, and the program is called Cold Facts. Although this program is a few years old, Landmark insiders told Background Briefing that today the forum is very similar.
Journalist Joachim Dyfvermark participated in the forum in Stockholm and says he was taken aback by the leader's hard selling methods.
Joachim Dyfvermark: Once you've done a breakthrough in the Landmark Education that is connecting with family members and getting them interested in what you're doing and getting a positive emotional feedback from them, then you are to enrol them.
Hagar Cohen: The leader in this forum wants participants to share their phone conversations.
Leader: Alright, now, all of you who've got on the phone, you should have something to share. So, who wants to share a miracle, come on, you guys! Let's be in the game here!
Hagar Cohen: Joachim's forum leader is speaking with one of the participants who questioned her assignment to share the forum with the people who are close to her.
Leader: You're unconscious. You're just unconscious. You've got to stop evaluating me and start to actually try it on. I'm one of the top coaches in the world, it's no answer that they sent me all the way from Australia to deal with you!
Joachim Dyfvermark: And they would bring up people on the stage with testimonies. And that will be like, did you have a breakthrough? And the student would say, Yes, I called my mum and I said I'm really, really sorry about me saying this and that. And what was the response, the forum leader would ask. And they would say, It was positive, it was absolutely wonderful, we cried and we laughed. And then what did you do? and some students didn't understand and they said, Well we laughed and hung up. And the forum leader, Well, call her back and ask her to attend the Tuesday meeting. Don't you want her to have the same possibility as you, having these breakthroughs?
Hagar Cohen: One participant invited her mother and the forum leader was pleased.
Forum Leader: Very good. And she was touched moved and inspired? Now then you asked her to come on Tuesday, did you? And what did she say? Well, here's how come! 'Cause she was touched, moved and inspired!
Hagar Cohen: The people who did not want to invite their relatives were harangued.
Forum Leader: You are liars. Me, I don't know. In other words you say, Yes, I'm going to do something, and then you don't do it. And here's the really disgusting in your country. You actually support each other doing this. That's actually why you have a lot of unworkability in your culture.
Hagar Cohen: These were excerpts from a TV4 program in Sweden, called Cold Facts which was broadcast in 2003. The station, TV4 aired another program in 2004. A few months later, Landmark left Sweden.
Background Briefing asked Landmark Education to comment on these Swedish documentaries. Landmark replied saying the documentary material -
Reader: ... should not be included in the program since we do not know their identity and therefore cannot comment on them.
Hagar Cohen: A little later another response to our requests for comments on the Swedish documentaries was sent, and there's a link to that long statement on the Background Briefing website. Landmark does not address the documentaries but has statements and references to Landmark providing professional value and not being harmful.
In both Sweden and Australia some government departments have used Landmark's training for staff members. Most of the following Australian list comes from Hansard in the last decade or so.
Federal Defence department $12,270
Victoria Police officers and public sector staff, $16,602.58
Victoria's Victim and Crime Tribunal, $960
Victorian Department of Human Services, $4,565
Victorian Department of Innovation, Industry and Regional Development, $9,300
W.A. Shire of Kalamunda, $7,685
and the Queensland Ambulance Services sent 28 officers over three years.
Hagar Cohen: Some legal firms have received inquiries from various people and employees asking if they had to obey a direction from a manager, that they attend Landmark Education's courses. For example, Job Watch is a Victoria-based helpline, which provides free legal advice on industrial relation matters. Lawyer Zana Byetheway is their CEO and she says Jobwatch have received a number of calls about Landmark's Training courses.
Zana Bytheway: Primarily the calls relate to callers being required by their employer to undertake Landmark courses. And some of these entail doing the courses on the weekend, and it was sort of considered part of their employment. The callers that actually called us weren't at all comfortable about it. I think once they sort of were asked to do it that made some of their own inquiries into Landmark. The issues they raised related to, they were concerned about any sort of religious aspects to the organisation and they were concerned that they were required to partake in this when they really didn't feel comfortable about it.
Hagar Cohen: So what would your advice be to those callers?
Zana Bytheway: One of the callers was in fact her employment was terminated because of her refusal to attend a Landmark course. And in those circumstances I would argue that they would have an unfair dismissal claim.
Hagar Cohen: Background Briefing contacted this caller who was an employee in a private company. She says the managers at her workplace were all Landmark graduates.
Nevertheless, there's no doubt Landmark Education has many satisfied customers and it's always keen for many people to get involved.
On the phone, spokesperson Nancy Zapolski invites Background Briefing to participate as a guest in the Landmark Forum in the coming weekend.
Nancy Zapolski: I don't know if you've ever looked at doing the Landmark Forum, but I would love to have you do it as our guest at some point even when this is all over so you can see for yourself.
Hagar Cohen: Landmark's PR representative however, later told Background Briefing that it would be impossible to arrange a Landmark Forum so quickly. Nevertheless the opportunity may arise again. Dr Nancy Zapolski.
Nancy Zapolski: Hagar, I really enjoyed speaking to you. It was really a pleasure, I enjoyed it, thank you for, you know, providing us with the questions and I enjoyed being able to spend this time with you and I really do hope that we can all work it out for you to participate in a Landmark Forum.
Hagar Cohen: Background Briefing's Co-ordinating producer is Linda McGinniss. Research, Anna Whitfeld. Technical operator is Jennifer Parsonage. The Executive Producer is Kirsten Garrett. I'm Hagar Cohen and this is ABC Radio National.