Much like that of the man who owned the Beverly Hilton before him, the story of Beny Alagem’s entrepreneurial journey is a winding one – and at each juncture, the same singular theme emerges.
“The most important part is the creation,” Alagem says, peering across the conference table in the Beverly Hilton at the team he has assembled. “What do you create?”
Alagem’s answer to the question has changed over the years, from semiconductors to luxury developments, but the drive to innovate has remained. Where did that drive originate? We asked Alagem how those who knew him best might answer that question. “My mother never used the word ‘entrepreneurial,’” Alagem says. It wasn’t in her vocabulary – at least, not in English.
Alagem was raised in the Israeli city of Jaffa, an ancient port town on the coast. After completing mandatory military service in the Israeli Defense Forces, he moved to California to study business and marketing at Cal Poly Pomona.
Climbing the Ladder
Packard Bell was Alagem’s first experience in the role of executive. After purchasing the name in 1986, Alagem and his business partners leveraged the iconic radio brand to manufacture and sell semiconductors at the enterprise level. Here Alagem’s marketing savvy paid off. By shifting focus to a broader base of consumers, Packard Bell became an innovative force in the PC revolution and other tech companies took note.
“You can create a certain thing which will last for generations,” Alagem explains of his time in the industry. “Then the next person can come and take the base of what you created and create some more.” It’s irrefutably a techie mindset, but one that Alagem has translated seamlessly into the world of luxury hospitality.
When he bought the Beverly Hilton from Hollywood magnate Merv Griffin in 2003, Alagem invested in the hardware upfront. While taking pains to maintain the iconic character of the hotel, Alagem invested $90M to bring the then 50-year old hotel into the 21st century. At the beginning of the process, Alagem promised employees that despite changes, their jobs were safe. This promise was made easier by the loyalty of the hotel’s guests, even in the midst of renovation – and to his credit, it’s a promise he kept.
“The Beverly Hilton is such a loved place, with so many hundreds of thousands of guests who frequent this hotel every year,” explains Alagem. “It’s because of the human side of it. We have people here who have worked all their lives – 40 years, 45 years – and so it is like a family.”
People are the most important element in any of Alagem’s endeavors. “No matter how talented you think you are, you have to have a great team with you,” he says. When it came to renovating the Beverly Hilton, Alagem depended greatly on advice from Merv Griffin, and as the scale of the project expanded, so did his team.
In renovating the exterior of the hotel, Alagem partnered closely with Gensler, an architecture firm with deep Los Angeles roots. When Alagem proposed a new project to revitalize the remaining parcel of his nine-acre holding, he turned to Gensler. “I had no question in my mind that we wanted them to help us think about the concept and bring it to reality,” Alagem explains. That concept is a joint hotel and residential building project of unparalleled scale that’s set to first come to life in June 2017 when this second hotel – the Waldorf Astoria – opens its doors. In addition to the Beverly Hilton and Waldorf, Alagem will be completing his vision by, as he describes it, building a community. In the literal sense, he is building a pair of residential towers that will house condominiums and provide owners access to the amenities of his two hotels.
A New Vertical
As for the soon-to-be-opened Waldorf Astoria, the hotel is a 12-story, 170-room homage to Los Angeles luxury and glamour. Pierre-Yves Rochon, Perkins+Will, and Gensler worked closely with Alagem to build a structure that mirrors and enhances the character of the Beverly Hilton, which Alagem noted was important to him as his parcel of land – sitting at the corner of Wilshire Blvd. and Santa Monica Blvd. at the entrance to Beverly Hills – is passed by an estimated 150-200,000 cars daily.
To run the Waldorf Astoria – what Alagem refers to as the “software” of the hotel – he searched the world. Luc Delafosse joined the Waldorf Astoria team as Executive Managing Director over a year ago, and comes with more than three decades of experience working for luxury hospitality brands around the world, most recently in Paris at the Hôtel de Crillon.
In October, Delafosse was joined by Vanessa Williams, the Waldorf Astoria’s Director of Sales and Marketing, who spent decades leading strategy for luxury hotels across the U.S. and Asia. Most recently, Michelin-rated chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten joined the Astoria team in a relatively unprecedented manner. While Chef Vongerichten’s flagship restaurant at the Waldorf will be his first West of New York City, he and his team are running the dining program throughout the hotel. From room service to catering for all events, the Waldorf menu will be a Jean-Georges menu.
Together, Alagem and his team are guiding the vision behind what might arguably be called the most iconic nine-acre swath of land in all of Los Angeles, building a future worthy of its tremendous history.