Florida Icon Harris Rosen President and COO, Rosen Hotels & Resorts®, age 67

by Mike Vogel

ORLANDO — Harris Rosen is not the kind of guy whose name usually makes it into the space I inhabit on the pages of this newspaper.

Published 2/1/2007 in Florida Trend The reason I’m in it is because when we do a good job — and we do that fortunately fairly often — it’s so nice to hear people tell you how much they enjoyed their stay and how much they relaxed and how much they accomplished at their meeting or their convention here, how much they enjoyed their banquet or their wedding or their bar mitzvah. I mean that’s what it’s all about.

I have a hard time really comprehending that I’m the owner of these places.

While in California, I read in a newspaper about Disney World and that Disney was planning to build this huge park here with hotels, and so I sent an application and a resume in and was asked to come to New York for an interview, and I did and was hired. I went to California as a, I don’t know what my title was — administrative, hotel planning or something — and worked with the architects planning the Polynesian, Contemporary, Fort Wilderness, golf resort. And about a year before we opened, towards the end of construction, I was assigned to Orlando from California.

We opened in October of ’71, and I left about a year later, involuntarily. I was told I would never really become a Disney person. I don’t know what that meant. I was very sad, but it turned out to be quite fortuitous. But I promised myself I would never work for anybody else after that even if I had to sell hot dogs on Church Street.

Shingle Creek [Resort] will have this wonderful meandering little trail. Why should the Appalachian Trail be the only trail of its kind? We’ve got this wonderful opportunity here in Florida where we could do something spectacular. We would name the wilderness trail after Patrick Smith, who wrote “A Land Remembered.”

You can have development, and you can have a pristine natural ecosystem cohabitating. You can.

Healthcare in the United States and I suspect elsewhere is really broken. I don’t think it can be fixed. We have to think out of the box and do something different.

Rosen, who is white and grew up in the Hell’s Kitchen section of New York City, thinks this success can be replicated in other cities. He wants other wealthy people to follow his lead. “If they’d come to Tangelo Park, if they spoke to the kids, they would go home and find a neighborhood in their community and do what I’m doing here.” The wealthiest Americans are wealthier than ever before. This year, everyone on the Forbes.com list of the nation’s 400 richest people is a billionaire. And giving in this country rose to an all-time high last year with 21 Americans forking out gifts of at least $100 million to charities.

We still have our health plan. We still have our medical center, but it’s expanded. And now suddenly it is becoming trendy for companies to have primary care facilities for their associates. We’ve had it for 20 years or so. It’s a great benefit.

I believe that it’s the responsibility for the employers to provide healthcare.

One day it is not inconceivable that we may go beyond primary care and we may expand into a hospital. It’s possible.

I love to eat. The reason I work out so hard is because I love to eat. But I eat healthy.

I swim for about an hour every day, and on weekends I walk. I think it’s about a three-mile walk, once on Saturday, once on Sunday.

I’m not a youngster anymore, and I still have as much energy now as I did when I was in my 30s. I never get tired during the day, and I sleep well at night, and I’ve got four teenagers and a wife. So I have a very busy life.

I don’t know if there’s anything good about debt. Oh, people tell me, ‘well if you put all of your money into your hotels, you won’t be able to invest in anything else.’ And my response is I don’t want to invest in anything else. I don’t think there’s anything else that I’d rather do than invest in me. I know me. I’m honest, and I’m hardworking, and I think I plan these things pretty well so they generally do well.

I guess that in the back of my mind is a thought when I see a homeless person that there but for the grace of God go I.

At Tangelo Park we have that program where every youngster 2, 3 and 4 years old has an opportunity to go to preschool, and every youngster who’s accepted to college here in Florida, a public college, has an opportunity to go because we pay all of their tuition, their books, their room and board. Isn’t that my way of saying thank you for the opportunities I’ve had and thank you for the blessings that I’ve received? I think it’s only fair.

Education is one of the few things that can level the playing field.

If Ithaca can have Cornell, certainly Orlando can have a great hospitality college, and so it was time. No one else stepped forward. I did, and now we have it.

We go to Cocoa Beach. We rent a little condo, and that’s my favorite place in the world. And I swim with the sharks. I take long, long swims in the ocean, and it’s crazy and I shouldn’t do it, but there’s something challenging and exciting about it.

I used to paint and sculpt, but I don’t have time.

People ask me a lot, ‘what’s the secret?’ And the short, kind of somewhat inaccurate response is the secret is that there’s no secret. You work hard; you have a passion for what you do; you’re honest. Ben Franklin said that a shrewd businessman is an honest businessman, and I believe that.

Whether you are religious or not, you have to understand that no matter how hard you work, no matter how passionate you are about what you’re doing, some thing, some force, somebody has to help. You can’t do it by yourself. And I know that.

For more information, visit www.rosenhotels.com.

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