A LINE OF WORK THAT'S ABOUT PLAY
By Karin Tanabe, for Bisnow on Business
Speaking with Donn Davis makes you want to go on vacation. And not the kind of sojourn where you have to dodge other vacationers in crowded lobbies and discover that the hotel’s infinity pool resembles a mosh pit. Rather, the kind of vacation where one phone call takes care of everything, where you can choose the sound of silence or the sound of corks popping, and where you come home with a tan to rival Giorgio Armani’s.
Davis, whose energy and creativity put one in mind of Virgin’s Richard Branson, has been at the helm of DC’s Exclusive Resorts, a Steve Case company, since 2003. “When you think of the history of the hospitality business, the last new invention was the hotel room,” he tells us in his sleek office. It almost sits on the dome of St. Matthew’s Cathedral and looks like something I.M. Pei would design after spending a couple weeks in Hawaii, which Davis points out, is where Steve Case is from. But actually the man behind the resort-like balconies, angled glass ceilings and industrial sliding doors is Davis himself.
Exclusive Resorts is a private club, providing its members access to a worldwide portfolio of hundreds of ultra-luxury vacation homes in dozens of destinations, all with 24/7 concierge service. “We’re building a branded lifestyle company,” Davis says. “Our brand stands for innovation, service, and certainty. If you rent a villa on your own, it may or may not be great. Our members are the working affluent. We allow them to plan a vacation in one minute that will be perfect.”
Davis, who formerly served as President of AOL Interactive Properties, is a lawyer by training. At the age of 29, he was the Chicago Cubs chief counsel and negotiated Sammy Sosa’s first major league contract. “I loved every job I ever had but the job I was least suited for was being a lawyer,” he says. Before working for AOL, Davis worked for the Tribune Company and was President of Tribune Ventures. “The common thread of all the things I have been involved in is that they are about a new consumer business. At Revolution we do “speedups” instead of startups. How do you make companies more mass market and more accessible to more people quickly?”
Donn Davis and Steve Case may just be the kings of speedups. The Revolution group includes Revolution Health, Exclusive Resorts, Flexcar and Miraval. “When we acquired Miraval, a destination spa, we saw the potential for it to be a lifestyle company,” says Davis with entrepreneurial excitement. It even got the golden nod from Oprah who did an entire hour on it recently. “We are working on ways that you can take Miraval home. One of our new products is Miraval Living, a 400 unit condominium high-rise, right on the river at 72nd and First Avenue in New York.” All the Miraval spa amenities and signature programs will be available to the building’s residents. So if you want to twist yourself into a pretzel at 3 am with your own yoga instructor, you can do that. Chi out of whack? Have a guru realign it while you watch the sun come up from the rooftop.
Davis is the President of Revolution and works with Case on all their businesses, but spends 75 % of his time as the CEO of Exclusive Resorts. When Case and Davis came upon Exclusive Resorts in 2003, they had 20 members and 3 homes. They bought a majority stake in the company and today there are 3,000 members that take 25,000 trips a year staying in 350 luxury homes in 35 destinations. If hooting with gorillas in Uganda is more your speed than sifting white sand between your manicured toes, they plan to launch “Once in a Lifetime” excursions every six-months starting in 2008.
Davis, who has spoken to his parents in Cincinnati on the way home from work every night since cell phones were invented, believes that “balance is an over-rated virtue. My passions are building businesses and my family.” But doesn’t the man who invents vacations take vacations? After he left AOL Davis stopped working for a month and developed a class for his alma mater, Miami University in Ohio, called “Real Business.” Davis taught the 10 simple rules of succeeding in business for one semester and the class is now in its 5th year. “The best advice is simple advice like think big and have no fear, but be willing to pay the price.” The last of Davis’ 10 commandments is “ Do something you love doing.” Working is practically vacation for him.
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