The competition in Beverly Hills' high-end hotel business is getting a sharper edge.

Renowned hotelier Ali Kasikci has taken a position as the managing director of the Montage Beverly Hills, now under construction at 225 N. Canon Drive.


That's one mile from the Peninsula Beverly Hills, where Kasikci resigned as managing director in a surprise move earlier this summer after 16 years with the hotel. Kasikci is credited with transforming the Peninsula from a money loser to the first and only five-star and five-diamond hotel in Southern California and one of the most profitable in the area.


"I never thought I would remain at the Peninsula Beverly Hills for that long," said Kasikci, 51. "But the time has come for me to leave for my next project because, after all, I am getting on in age and I want to make one more big career move. I have outgrown the Peninsula."


Kasikci decided to leave the Peninsula at the end of last year and started quietly putting out word that he was looking for a new position. He did not have a non-compete agreement with the Peninsula.


He was offered a wide variety of jobs but Kasikci said he chose to go to the Montage because of its location in Beverly Hills, where he lives, and because of his friendship with Montage Chief Executive Alan J. Fuerstman, who operates the Montage Hotel Laguna Beach.


With the Montage scheduled to open in the fall of 2008 and ongoing upgrades at many current hotels, the competition at the luxury level in Beverly Hills will be keen, said Alan X. Reay, president of Atlas Hospitality Group in Irvine. Along with the Peninsula, the Regent Beverly Wilshire will be the primary competition for Montage, he said.


"When Kasikci moves, he takes his list of contacts," Reay said. "If that clientele follows him to the Montage and I think there is a good chance they will it could have a big effect at least in the short term on the Peninsula."


The Montage's location a short walk to the Spago Beverly Hills restaurant and a couple of blocks to the heart of Rodeo Drive could put it at an advantage over its competitors, said Wayne Williams, president of Los Angeles-based asset management company Williams & Associates.


However, some analysts believe that the Westside market is so strong that all parties will sustain strong business.


"Ali going to Montage strengthens the Montage but there is no reason that the Peninsula shouldn't do well," said Bruce Baltin, a senior vice president of PKF Consulting, a hospitality specialist in Los Angeles. He works with both hotels and is a friend of Kasikci's.


Average hotel rents in Beverly Hills are among the highest in the country. They rose to $388 in June, up from $361 the same month last year, according to PKF Consulting. The occupancy rate rose as well, by about 3 percentage points over that span to 79 percent.


Fred Hayman, famous for his perfume line and his Giorgio of Beverly Hill store is also a friend of Kasikci. Hayman said he thinks the hotelier's move is a good one for the city.


"The more fine hotels, the more business for Rodeo Drive and for business in general for the restaurants, for travel. In every way it is very favorable," Hayman said.


Executives with the Peninsula did not return telephone inquiries.


Lifelong avocation

Kasikci has had a long and illustrious career in the hotel business.


He started working in the industry when he was in high school in his home country of Turkey. His family sent him to Germany to go to hospitality school and he completed an apprenticeship at the renowned Bayerischer Hof Hotel in Munich.


After some time in England to build his language skills, Kasikci went to South Africa.


"My career really skyrocketed over there," said Kasikci. "I like to say I went to South Africa as a boy and I left as a man."


The hotel where he was working sent him to get his bachelor's degree from Cornell University in the United States, and when he returned he became a general manager of La Montagna at the age of 26. He later served as managing director of the Royal Hotel in Durbin. But he didn't stay for long.


"I hadn't conquered the world," he said. "So I came to the United States and started at the Four Seasons Hotel in Newport Beach."


He earned his M.B.A. from Claremont University's Peter F. Drucker Graduate Management School while he was working and eventually moved on to the Peninsula, where he has spent about half of his hotel career.


He is credited with turning the hotel around. The Peninsula went from $6 million in annual losses to $1.8 million in net profits within his first several years, according to Jim Butler, a hotel lawyer and founding partner of Jeffer Mangels Butler & Marmaro LLP. Additionally, he is well known for adding features to the hotel, such as the 24-hour check-in and baggage storage to individualized service to its guests.


The Peninsula's service is almost legendary. Kasikci's day there started with a meeting in which employees would discuss who the guests were for the day. The hotel is known for gathering very specific information about guests many of them rich and famous in order to accommodate them at surprising turns. Valets may surprise guests by greeting them by name when they arrive, for example.


Kasikci said many of the same services will be available at the Montage.


Kasikci declined to go into the details of his departure from the Peninsula, but compared it to a divorce.


"One of us wanted to leave and the other didn't want the same thing," he said.


The hotel has not yet announced a replacement.


"I have built the Peninsula Beverly Hills with my blood, sweat and tears. I have a vested interest in its well-being," said Kasikci. "If they had asked for my help finding someone new, I would have helped."


Kasikci concluded his service at the Peninsula in August and will begin in his new post for the Montage on September 10, well over a year before the hotel opens. His first tasks will be focusing on hiring a management team and working on a strategic plan.


"I am attracted to the idea of creating something from scratch, from the ground up," said Kasikci. "There is a big difference between fixing something that isn't working and doing it right the first time. If you are pregnant and you prepare, eat right and go to the doctor, you will have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby."


Kasikci, who was named "Independent Hotelier of the World" by Hotels magazine in 2004 and "Executive of the Year 1998" by Beverly Hills, says competition among hotels is not his objective.


"My first and foremost goal is to make sure all Beverly Hills hotels are doing well," he said, But made his intentions for the Montage clear.


"I'm positioning the hotel to make it the best in America."

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