By: Mary Deatrick
It is 6 a.m. The bedside phone rings. The night auditor calls, sharing the final revenue numbers for the previous day’s business at seven hotels, more than 24 restaurants, two spas and an 18-hole golf club.
The start of another “ordinary” day in the disciplined life of Orlando’s everyman, Harris Rosen.
If you thought the life of Florida’s largest independent hotelier Harris Rosen, whose portfolio includes the AAA Four Diamond Rosen Shingle Creek, might be more like those in the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” you may be sadly disappointed. Or depending upon your social values, incredibly impressed and appreciative.
While Rosen, founder and owner of Rosen Hotels & Resorts, is arguably a hotelier of great stature and means (owning all seven of his Orlando hotels outright due to his staunch belief in running a debt-free company), his typical day-to-day lifestyle is unlike anything you might expect.
He opts to contain his hotels within Orlando so he is easily accessible to guests and clients, not to mention available to his staff and for impromptu inspections of his hotels (an activity relished by his fastidious Virgo nature). One general manager tells the story of returning to his office after a meeting to find four cigarette butts in a napkin on his desk, a clear message from his boss. While some hotel companies might be ecstatic if this were the sole blemish on their grounds, at a Rosen Hotel, perfection is the only option.
The razor-like dedication Rosen invests in his business and the guest experience is mirrored in an unbridled philanthropic passion donating millions of dollars annually to pave the way for others to succeed. “I’ve been given so much, it’s only right I give back,” said Rosen, a self-made man with humble beginnings in New York City’s Bowery district. “It’s with enormous gratitude I created the Harris Rosen Foundation 25 years ago. My greatest hope is to instill hope in others.”
Communities throughout Orlando and globally (such as Haiti and Japan) have benefited from Rosen’s philanthropy. He has provided preschool and college scholarships to youth and their families in the community of Tangelo Park, funded the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at UCF and annual scholarships for its students, built the Jack and Lee Rosen Jewish Community Center, and soon will be launching his largest initiative to date — providing college scholarships and 24 preschool classrooms for Orlando’s Parramore residents. Additionally, Rosen’s own associates and their dependents can receive full college scholarships and incredibly affordable health insurance, which he underwrites.
Rosen’s carefully-timed wake-up call starts a day largely about routine, something he is quite comfortable with, and also sprinkled with the unexpected, something he says he is attuned to expect as a hotelier. The call is followed by an hour of stretching in front of the TV catching up on the overnight news and a breakfast of steel cut oatmeal with fresh strawberries. Rosen then grabs his clipberry (his staff’s affectionate term for their techno-phobic leader’s clipboard that holds a printout of his day’s schedule) and heads out into the Orlando sunshine to continue his day.
Did You Know? Harris Rosen placed sixth in the U.S. Olympic Team Pentathalon tryouts in 1960 and earned a black belt in judo while serving in the U.S. Army in Korea
Tangelo Park YMCA for the monthly Tangelo Park Board Meeting. The Tangelo Park Program holds a special place in his heart as one of his first annual charitable commitments started 24 years ago. Early on, Rosen assembled a board — everyone from the local police chief, elementary school principal, Tangelo Baptist Church minister and others — committed to the program’s success. Today, several of the program’s more than 200 college grads — who all received full scholarships including room, board, books and tuition — attend to share their success stories with visiting Cornell University students (hosted by Rosen). A few grateful tears are shed.
A site inspection at Rosen Plaza Hotel on International Drive. There is nothing Rosen seems to enjoy more than engaging directly with hotel guests and joining his sales staff to greet meeting planners, much to their surprise and delight. With this enthusiasm, Rosen is prone to being sidelined, such as on this day when a young mother from Sacramento approaches, recognizing him from the hotel’s in-room magazine Rosen Reveal. Rosen generously chats with her, asking questions about her family and their stay. The hotel’s general manager, Derek Baum, gently intercedes to maintain timeliness. As they continue to the site, Rosen eyes a housekeeper in a hallway pulling towels from her cart. “Sak pase,” (“What’s up” in Haitian Creole) he says, while extending his hand. She smiles and shakes Rosen’s hand while responding “N’ap boule” (“I’m good”).
Finally completing the original site inspection, Baum asks Rosen if he can step into a “pop-up” unplanned site with a group who may book Zayde’s Kosher Catering. A handshake with Rosen seals the deal, securing a Passover group for 2018.
Rosen averages three speeches weekly at his hotels. A natural introvert, he is happy to share the stage today with UCF’s Chuck Dziuban, Dr. Bob Allen and Sheriff Jerry Demings to speak to the National Conference on Preventing Crime in Black Communities at the Rosen Centre. While he is soft-spoken, it is not difficult for the audience to detect Rosen’s passion and excitement for the Tangelo Park Program, which is met with rousing applause as he shares stats on how high school graduation rates have increased from 45 to 99 percent and how there has been a 60 percent decrease in crime.
Rosen shares that soon he will be paying the annual salaries for 48 teachers and a director for 24 preschool classrooms at the new Orange County Public Schools Academic Center for Excellence in Parramore … not to mention providing Parramore youth the same college opportunities he extends to the Tangelo community. The Parramore initiative alone is a $4 million annual commitment, all to provide hope for future generations.
As Rosen departs the stage, he is met with a rock star-worthy standing ovation and a line of attendees hoping to chat, several of who request selfies (which the computer-phobic Rosen will most likely never see).
A revered block of time for physical fitness and unfettered reflection, Rosen arrives for his daily one-hour, 1 ½ mile swim, typically at the YMCA Aquatic Center on International Drive (or Rosen Shingle Creek’s lap pool).
Behind the wheel of his 2015 white Nissan, Rosen arrives at the Rosen Inn International and his office — which is actually three conjoined second-floor guest rooms, purposely lost among the hotel’s 728 guest rooms. The space doubled as living quarters for his first 15 years in business until he was married.
Did You Know? Rosen takes the time to call each associate to extend birthday greetings, but what is his birthday ritual? Skydiving at Fort Bragg.
Numerous phone messages, requests and the day’s associate birthday list are gathered throughout the morning and now delivered to Rosen by his 25-year-plus right-hand executive assistant, Alberta Masmoudi, who also helped raise Rosen’s four children. (The company truly is one big family.) Rosen tackles the pile, beginning with calls to each associate to extend birthday greetings. A few are so surprised you can almost see them “beaming” through the phone as they thank him for the unexpected outreach.
Room service delivers the daily antioxidant-rich lunch — a salad of salmon, blueberries, strawberries, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and nuts. Rosen attempts a small break to eat lunch, read his many magazines and the Wall Street Journal and grab some sun on the small deck outside his office.
A full afternoon includes conference calls with potential clients fielded by another valued executive assistant, Marie Lowe, and drafting a thank you letter for a recent VIP Costco tour. Meetings include a discussion to develop a documentary about the company’s innovative healthcare program and Rosen Medical Center; a meeting with human resources to discuss rebuilding more than 110 homes in Haiti, which was devastated last fall by Hurricane Matthew; and a gathering with his engineering team to review some of the final buildout plans for the Parramore preschool; all capped with a brief profit and loss update with the company’s 30-year-plus CFO Frank Santos.
Rosen completes the day’s correspondence, then grabs his clipberry containing tomorrow’s freshly-printed schedule. He heads to his car with the brisk step of a man half his age, content in knowing his inbox is now a clean slate for the following day.
Rosen has a family of four young adults with whom he spends a considerable amount of time — often for dinner, which for him is a large salad with chicken, scallops or salmon, vegetables and fruits. Ultimately, each day ends as it starts, with an hour of stretching and TV news. Then off to bed. No need to set an alarm. An informative wake-up call has been scheduled for years. The lifestyle of the rich and famous — Harris Rosen style.
“I’ve been given so much, it’s only right I give back, It’s with enormous gratitude I created the
Harris Rosen Foundation 25 years ago. My greatest hope is to instill hope in others.” – Harris Rosen