Barry Sternlicht. Barry Sternlicht.

5. Barry Sternlicht

When you have been dubbed ‘The king of hotels’ you know you have caught the attention of a few hoteliers.

As the founder of Starwood Hotels and Resorts, Barry Sternlicht is a real estate developer with an eye for a property and the ability to realise a brand.

Story continues below

Many of his creations have been copied, the sincerest form of flattery.

Born in New York City in 1960, Sternlicht got his MBA from Harvard Business School in 1986. His first job after Harvard was with Chicago-based JMB Realty, where he became a sensation, but was fired before the savings and loan crisis.

He had a friend who handled money for the ultrawealthy Burden and Ziff families who offered to back him with $20 million if he started his own investment firm. Others joined in, and in 1992, Sternlicht launched Starwood Capital Group.

His goal was to buy up multi-family apartment buildings that were being auctioned off in the government’s bailout of the savings and loan crisis. In 1993, Sternlicht sold the portfolio to real estate magnate Sam Zell for more than 20 percent of Zell’s Equity Residential Properties Trust. When Zell took the company public that year, Starwood saw a 100 percent return.

Sternlicht later began to purchase hotel sites, focusing on combining his passions of architecture and real estate finance.

Starwood Capital also bought its first hotels, kicking off the series of moves that would realign the hospitality industry.

The first was the acquisition of Westin Hotels & Resorts Inc and one month later, Starwood Hotels completed the purchase of ITT Sheraton Corp. for $14.6 billion.

The hotel business, meanwhile, had proven to be tailor-made for Sternlicht’s wide-ranging interests in capital markets, operations, marketing and design. Having shaken up the hotel industry’s dynamics through mergers, he contributed a number of other influential innovations. In 1999 he started the popular Starwood Preferred Guest program, credited with being the first “no blackout” program in the industry.

In the same year he went on to develop the luxury ST Regis brand following the purchase of the century-old St. Regis Hotel in Midtown Manhattan.