Efrem Harkham, chairman of Luxe Worldwide Hotels, stands across the street… (Genaro Molina, Los Angeles…)
The gig: Efrem Harkham, 55, is the founder and chairman of Luxe Hotels, a Los Angeles company that owns two local hotels and Luxe Worldwide Hotels, a management firm that oversees the operation of 200 independently owned hotels.
Worldwide: The company employs 315 workers and provides marketing, sales, reservations and other services for hotels in Europe, South America and the Middle East, as well as North America. Locally, it owns the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel in West Los Angeles and the Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel in Beverly Hills. It also runs the former Los Angeles Holiday Inn, renamed the Luxe City Center Hotel, across from Staples Center.
Soul of a new business: Frustrated by a management company running the hotel he owned in Bel-Air, Harkham jumped into the task of managing hotels himself in 1999. "They didn't care about my property," he said. "They didn't care about my staff. They didn't care about the soul: the guests."
His hero: Walt Disney. "Animation was executed by many before him. He introduced something new. He created magic and made it special," Harkham said. "This is my goal for the hotel industry."
A learning moment: Harkham recalled the time that a woman battling a stubborn cold checked in to the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel. He ordered the hotel restaurant to send her freshly made chicken soup free of charge. And it paid off. The guest returns often to the hotel and tells her friends about the gesture. He said: "This resulted in a long friendship with the guest, her entire family and work associates."
Australian roots: Born in Israel, Harkham grew up in Australia and got a start in business at age 17 in Sydney. He worked as a salesman for Lulu, his older brother's clothing manufacturing company. Lulu took off after he persuaded a buyer for a large retailer, Rockman's of Australia, to carry one of the company's jumpsuits.
Coming to America: With money he made by selling his share of the clothing business, Harkham moved to Los Angeles in 1978 and invested in commercial real estate, including the struggling Radisson Bel-Air Hotel, which is now the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel. He also invested in Hollywood's film industry, becoming associate producer for the 1983 crime drama "Gorky Park" starring William Hurt.
A union challenge: Harkham faced his only big labor clash in 1998, when a group called the Jewish Labor Committee issued a report after he bought the Beverly Hills hotel. The report said conditions at the hotel, then called the Summit Hotel, became unbearable for union activists after Harkham took over. Harkham said union officials were simply trying to get him to sign a labor contract, which he did a few months later. Union officials said they have had no problems with Harkham's hotels since then.
Being picky: As the recent recession took its toll on hotel owners across the country, Harkham said he was approached by several attorneys and other representatives of hotels in foreclosure or default. They asked him to manage their hotels and pull them out of the red. But he was unimpressed by the hotels. "I decided against that," he said. "They were not the right properties. The image was not right. I wasn't going to sell out. I didn't want to mess with that."
Surviving the recession: His own hotels faced the same pressures during the recession, but Harkham said the hotels continued to produce profits because his company attracted guests with special rates and package deals. He also expanded his sales force to bring in well-heeled business travelers.
How to unwind: Harkham lives in Beverly Hills with his wife and three children. Though he travels regularly, he said he tried to be home with his family every weekend. While on the road, he practices yoga and meditation to keep his mind and body fit. "Closing out the world is what it's about," he said. "Fifteen minutes in the morning and again at night. I find it helps me maintain my sanity."