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  • Separating belief and business


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    Separating belief and business

    By DEBORAH O'NEIL, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 2, 2002

    Home is a pair of waterfront mansions valued at $3.8-million on a gated Belleair island.

    His ride to work is a sleek Mercedes S600. Retail: $100,000.

    He has a $6.6-million getaway in Aspen, Colo. He's refurbishing two New York City office buildings he bought for $41-million.

    Bryan Zwan has become wealthy since founding Digital Lightwave 12 years ago. Last fall, he joined Bill Gates and Warren Buffett on the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans.

    Zwan, 54, exudes the friendliness, self-confidence and power that Scientology prides itself in developing. He credits his 29 years in Scientology for contributing to his success, even as he tries to distance his church from his company.

    Scientology's celebrities Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Kirstie Alley are ambassadors for the church. So, too, are local Scientologists like Bennetta Slaughter, who praised Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard last year when her private company was named Clearwater business of the year.

    It's not that easy for Zwan.

    "For a private company, it's one thing," Zwan said. "If you're a celebrity that's quite a different matter. You take a CEO running a public company, it's more difficult. There is maybe a perception, and in this case, a wrong perception, that your religious beliefs are embedded in your public enterprise."

    Yet away from the company, Zwan pridefully talks about being a Scientologist. He invited Times reporters to join him for lunch at the Fort Harrison Hotel and tour a church exhibit on Hubbard's life.

    As for controversy about his church, Zwan says, "Look at the first 50 years of any religion. ..."

    "Most of the situation is all about its newness and the period of time when they're becoming integrated into the social fabric," he said. "It's all about misunderstanding and beliefs that aren't quite shared, but misunderstood."

    Zwan and his wife, June, have donated at least $5-million to the church's new Super Power building in Clearwater. That puts them among elite donors called "Legion of OT," referring to the Scientology term "operating thetan," one with full awareness, memory and ability.

    The Zwans described their donation in a 2001 church booklet: "The night we made the decision to become Legion of OTs was magic. In a matter of seconds a group of OTs gathered and postulated into existence a new level of donation by blowing off any consideration concerning energy and time. ... It felt like pure art."

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