Efrem Harkham Title:

President, CEO

Organization:

Luxe Worldwide Hotels

Born:

Tel Aviv, Israel

Education:

Sydney University, Sydney, Australia

Career Turning Point:

Leaving the family clothing business in 1991 and entering hospitality full time.

Most Admired Person:

A toss-up between Walt Disney, who made his vision a reality, and Moses

Hobbies:

Jogging, art collecting and yoga

Personal:

Married; two children

Ex-clothier Efrem Harkham plays host to dignitaries and business executives alike as he shakes up lodging market with his boutique hotels and reservation system

After years on the road, carting samples worldwide as president and CEO of Jonathan Martin and Hype clothing manufacturers, Efrem Harkham exited the fashion business in 1991 and turned his attention to running a Westside hotel, now named the Luxe Summit Bel-Air. This venture grew into the Luxe Worldwide Hotels, a chain of boutique properties of which Harkham is president and CEO.

The chain is carving a niche in the ultra-competitive hospitality business by offering a more personalized service than guests find in the larger hotels, and it is catering to a younger business executive looking for something different. Each of the hotels has its own design, style and furnishings that set it apart from the others in the chain.

In 2000, he opened the Luxe Hotel Rodeo Drive in the heart of Beverly Hills, now the flagship. He also created the Luxe Worldwide Hospitality reservation service, which helps independent hotels compete with the larger chains for bookings.

Harkham was born in Israel and grew up in Sydney, Australia.

Question:

What made you decide to start managing the Luxe Summit Bel-Air full time?

Answer: I bought the hotel (Luxe Summit Bel-Air) in 1983 as a sideline. I had lots of different management companies running it for me; I even brought in the Radisson franchise for five years. I just decided to dump it all, get rid of all the franchise companies, the representation companies and management companies, and I was determined to turn it around. It was a failing property at the time. I wanted to pursue another career. I wanted a change. I loved hospitality and enjoyed taking care of guests. I realized it was no different than any other business that it was about taking care of the client.

Q: Up until that point, you had been partners with your brother, Yuri, in a very successful apparel business, Jonathan Martin. Was your brother upset when you told him you had decided to leave the company and focus full-time on hotels?

A: He was extremely upset. It was a heartbreaking division, a very difficult separation, emotionally. It was hard for him to run the growing enterprise, as we had shared the business 50/50.

Q: So you and your brother are not partners anymore?

A: I sold my stake in Jonathan Martin. My brother does not have a stake in my hotel business.

Q: How did you turn the hotel business around?

A: I was amazed by the fact that a hotel (Luxe Summit Bel-Air) with 162 rooms, so personable, and in an incredible location, was losing money. We tried all these different reservation services, we tried larger franchises, and we were too small for them. Radisson took us for five years. Our volume increased, but the rates did not. So we found ourselves saying, "What is this all about? This is ridiculous." So we said goodbye to the Radisson Group and started our own, the Luxe group. And that's where we put into motion the concept of our own reservation center, our own representation of independently owned hotels that we feel are so under-represented. We now have a seamless reservation system that provides real-time room availability and rates. It's the kind of service that independent hotels, like mine, never get unless we joined a large system.

Q: And that's why you bought the reservation systems, because your hotel wasn't getting booked?

A: It wasn't being found. It wasn't easy to access. Our competition, the chains, were getting all the business. Now we're biting into their business, now we're taking a chunk away from the competition, particularly at our new hotel in Beverly Hills (Luxe Rodeo Drive). Our next goal is to have global sales support for our group. And that means having representation in New York and the major feeder cities. We have representation in Japan, in Sydney, Australia, London, and we just opened one in Mexico City. So that's been our goal: to expand our international presence.

Q: You seem to travel a lot. How much time do you spend in Los Angeles, and where else do you live?

A: Adding up short business trips, I spend about two months of the year out of town. I have a place in New York.

Q: At your L.A. home, you've been known to host several VIPs, having them as overnight guests, including Israeli dignitaries like Shimon Peres. Is that a regular practice?

A: We've had dignitaries stay at the hotel and entertained them at my home. One of my passions is supporting Israel, by fund-raising for Israeli leaders and Jewish causes. I do that for other causes as well, like Athletes and Entertainers for Kids.

Q: And with your Bel-Air property so close to Getty Center, you probably also host quite a few art dignitaries, right?

A: We've developed an incredible rapport with every department (at the Getty). We're extremely close to the individuals there, and we get a lot of their business. They actually use the hotel on occasion to buy art have the dealers come here and show the art a couple of times.

Q: Given your background in the garment industry, why did you decide to get into the hotel business?

A: I really understood what was missing (when I traveled), and what made me remember a hotel those memorable touches. For example, going to Japan and having extremely heavy bags filled with samples and fabrics. I really wanted to give the bellman a tip and he refused. "No, it is our pleasure," he said. That stuck with me. So we offer that now to our senior guests. At our franchise hotels, we don't take tips from seniors.

Q: How do hotels join the Luxe franchise?

A: First we bring them in as a Luxe reservation member. We want hotels that are centrally located, have services that are exceptional, and staff that care. At Luxe Summit Bel-Air we have a return rate of 93 percent, which means 93 percent of our guests say they will return to our hotels the next time they visit the area which is huge. At the end of their stay, we have a questionnaire for them, which asks them their preferences for beds, kinds of pillows, that kind of info.

Q: So, you're a hands-on type of CEO?

A: Extremely. It works. That's why guests get the welcoming letter, welcoming them to the hotel, the personal touch. We've tried to maintain that personal feeling, even though I'm not here on an ongoing basis. I didn't want guests to feel that we're not taking care of them. You'll find that our group of hotels does the same. Relationship marketing is our motto here and has worked so well for us. When I was in Sydney two weeks ago (calling on travel agents), I took flowers and they were just so impressed. Just taking care of people is so simple.

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