NEWS: The global battle for the ultimate luxury hotel chain

4 September 2014
Fortune Magazine

For aficionados, Aman is much more than a hotel. It’s an experience unrivaled anywhere else. At the Aman at Summer Palace in Beijing, guests have access to a secret door that opens onto the east gate of the palace gardens. At the Aman Grand Canal in Venice, they are allowed to visit the Doge’s Palace and clock tower in St. Mark’s Square after hours.

The company has long eschewed advertising, relying largely on its elite clientele to quietly spread the word. Bill Gates has been a guest. In March, Mark Zuckerberg holidayed at the Amanraya in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Just days after Novak Djokovic’s Wimbledon win, the tennis champion was married at the Aman Sveti Stefan on the Adriatic Coast in Montenegro.

As a business, Aman is considered enticing, in part because it hasn’t fulfilled its potential—producing estimated annual revenues of just $202 million and operating profits of around $45 million. Having pursued a strategy of pricey rates (rooms start at $1,500 a night), no seasonal discounting, and deliberately limited capacity, Aman has maintained its exclusivity. But occupancy runs at around 30%, compared with an average of 76% for the rest of the elite-hotel sector. As a result, Aman has seemed like a sterling-but-untapped brand that, with the right investments and strategy, could bring its profits in line with the ardor of its fans.

So last year, when DLF, India’s largest commercial real estate developer, signaled its desire to sell Aman, suitors came calling. The luxury conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy, the private equity titans Carlyle Group and Blackstone, and a Chinese state-owned enterprise had all made moves. In the end, however, an unlikely pair—Omar Amanat, a 42-year-old American entrepreneur, and Vladislav Doronin, a Russian property mogul in his early fifties—prevailed with a bid of $358 million.

Little has been published in the English-language press about the businesses of Vladislav Doronin. Indeed, public records and even the Internet are strikingly lacking in records of his commercial interests and interactions. Doronin is often described as a Russian oligarch, a term that suggests dealings tied to political connections—a label his camp resists. “He is a self-made businessman and a gentleman,” says one associate. (Doronin declined to be interviewed, but his press and legal representatives answered questions.) The associate did offer that the billionaire is passionate about architecture, real estate, and art, adding, “He’s sporty, if you’ve seen pictures of him.” Indeed, Doronin has the muscled presence of a Dolph Lundgren.

Doronin was born in what was then Leningrad in the Soviet Union. He moved to Geneva in 1985 to work as a trader for Marc Rich, the “king of commodities,” who was infamous for fleeing the U.S. after a grand jury indicted him on some 50 counts of fraud, racketeering, tax evasion, and trading with Iran. (President Bill Clinton pardoned Rich in a controversial 2001 decision; he died last year.)

Doronin returned to Russia in the early 1990s, just as the country was transitioning to a market economy. Over the next 25 years he amassed an estimated $2.5 billion fortune in Moscow real estate.

The public details of Doronin’s transactions may be scant, but the same cannot be said of his personal life. Referred to in the British press as the “Russian Donald Trump,” Doronin is perhaps best known as the ex-boyfriend of supermodel Naomi Campbell. Before they split in 2013, the pair were regular figures on the international party circuit, photographed aboard his yacht, as well as in a fashion shoot for Russian Vogue and at his various homes around the world.

Original article.

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