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Harris Rosen: Hotelier, Humanitarian & Hospitality Legend

Harris Rosen, founder and president of the award-winning Rosen Hotels & Resorts®, isn’t a man who thinks much about his legacy. He is too busy for that. Rosen’s time is spent envisioning new ways to help the less fortunate here in Central Florida and around the world. He is actively ensuring that the next generation of hospitality professionals takes the industry to even greater heights. At the same time, he’s busy launching the most dynamic vacation and convention hotel to open in Central Florida in years—Rosen Shingle Creek®. In truth, this new property is more than just another hotel for Rosen; it is the crowning achievement of his four distinguished decades in the hospitality industry. Just as important, it is the fulfillment of a personal dream.

“I have spent the best years of my career here in Florida,” Rosen explained. “I love every aspect of this state—the geography, the history, the people. So, for my final project, I envisioned a hotel that honored the majesty of the natural Florida frontier and reflected the spirit of the grand hotels built here at the turn of century.”

Rosen purchased this parcel of 250 glorious acres along the legendary Shingle Creek several years ago. Flourishing with native flowers and plants—including dense oaks, towering pines and majestic cypress trees—this site, Rosen felt, embodied Florida’s natural magnificence. And he knew that it would be the ideal setting for the final project in his illustrious career.

That career began in 1961 when Rosen graduated from the prestigious School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University. But Rosen’s path to success began at a much earlier age.

“My first job was selling worms,” Rosen explained. “I was 8 or 9 years old, staying at a cabin in upstate New York during the summer while my father worked in the city. After a few days up there, I realized that the fishermen were anxious to fish, but didn’t want to bother with finding their own bait. So, I started catching night crawlers and selling them—three worms for a quarter. That was a lot of money back then.”

That worm business was perhaps the first glimpse of Rosen’s entrepreneurial spirit. But it wouldn’t be the last.

After college, Rosen went into the Army for three and a half years and was stationed overseas in Asia and Europe. While in Germany, Rosen was once again bitten by the business bug and found an opportunity to start a tulip business. Once again, he was a success. In fact, he earned enough money selling flowers to do a little traveling while on R & R, and it was on one of these trips that he stumbled onto his next entrepreneurial adventure.

On the beaches of Spain, Rosen began selling sun reflectors to the German tourists. He manufactured the reflectors himself and even sold advertising on the backs to makers of sunscreen. Before he headed back to his unit, Rosen had sold out of his inventory.

To Rosen, these ventures felt perfectly natural. Everything he attempted, he approached with incredible energy. And when he returned from his service, Rosen rededicated himself to the hospitality industry. He went to work with the Hilton Hotel Corporation and worked his way up to senior management, and then went into management with the Disney Company in California.

When Rosen migrated to Central Florida in the early seventies, he was ready to reclaim his entrepreneurial spirit, only this time, it wasn’t a worm business he was interested in.

In 1973, Rosen purchased a 256-room Quality Inn in Orlando on International Drive, and his company was officially underway. In Florida, Rosen was determined to set his roots, and raise the bar for the entire hotel industry. He was also excited to be a part of something bigger. He wanted to immerse himself in the community as well as his business.

Rosen recollects, “Where I grew up, in New York City’s Lower East Side, people didn’t have a lot of money. Everywhere I looked, I saw blue-collar workers. But my mom wanted more from me. I remember her saying constantly, ‘I don’t care what you are, just be the best.’” That advice pretty well sums up Rosen’s work ethic—whether he’s working on a new hotel like Rosen Shingle Creek or on one of his philanthropic endeavors, he is headstrong and totally committed. “I know that I’ve come a long way, but I don’t feel wealthy or successful. I think it’s just my Lower East Side background. I just work hard, like my mom told me to do.”

Over the course of the last thirty years, Rosen’s company has grown from 256 rooms to more than 6,300. Today, the Rosen family of hotels, which includes the award-winning Rosen Centre® and Rosen Plaza®, and four other properties in the Orlando area, remains, unwaveringly, a standard-bearer of service, reflecting the influence of Rosen’s early positions at the Waldorf Astoria and others.

“The secret of success is no secret,” Rosen says. “You’ve got to work your ass off. You have to be obsessed.”

While the company’s newest property, the Rosen Shingle Creek, may be the pinnacle of Rosen’s hospitality career, his legacy extends well beyond guest rooms and golf courses. To people in the hospitality community, as well as the community at large, Rosen is just as renowned and even more revered for his philanthropy and good will.

Throughout his career, Rosen has believed that his mission is not just to conduct business in the community, but also to invest in it. Toward that end, in 1993, he launched the Tangelo Park Pilot Program with the mission of fulfilling the dreams of at-risk children and their parents.

“My pledge was that every two, three and four-year-old would be able to go to preschool at no expense to their parents,” Rosen explained, “and that for every youngster in the program who was accepted to a public college in the state of Florida, we would pay his or her tuition, room, board, books and travel.”

Since its inception, the Tangelo Park program has provided more than 200 college scholarships, and high school dropout rates have gone from 25% in 1993 to just 6% in 2004.

Rosen has also donated more than $22 million to the University of Central Florida for the creation of a world-class school of hospitality management, and he has become involved in such diverse projects as “Water for Haiti,” raising funds to purchase specialized water filtration devices in order to provide fresh drinking water to one million people in Haiti and “The Bronze Statue Program” at Bethune-Cookman College. Most recently, Rosen pledged $3.5 million to build a Southwest Orlando Jewish Community Campus in Dr. Phillips. The Campus will bear the name, “The Jack and Lee Rosen Southwest Orlando Jewish Community Campus,” in honor of Mr. Rosen’s parents. As a result of his many heartfelt efforts, Harris Rosen is no longer simply a hotelier; he has become, in fact, a role model.

For more information about Rosen Shingle Creek, call (866) 996-9939 or visit www.oldrsc.com.

Rosen Hotels & Resorts currently owns and operates seven properties in the Orlando market. Numerous hospitality-industry awards, employee longevity and a reputation for quality have fueled the growth of Rosen Hotels & Resorts over the past 34 years. For more information about Rosen Hotels & Resorts, visit www.rosenhotels.com.

For more information, contact: Robert Hubler
(407) 639-4212, Email: rhubler@RosenHotels.com
Photography available in our Photo Gallery

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