On December 31, 1991, after great hype and speculation, the Lanesborough, London’s most expensive hotel, held its long-awaited opening. London society was properly abuzz. Not only was the hotel on historic Hyde Park Corner, one of the most exclusive addresses in the world, but it was already heralding itself as “beyond luxury.” A simple room for two would cost $396 a night, a regular suite would go for $1,035, and the Royal Suite (a three-bedroom apartment with a drawing room, dining room, personal butler, round-the-clock chauffeur, and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the gardens of Buckingham Palace) would set you back a mere $4,500.
The big news about the Lanesborough, however, was not its spectacular prices. It was that the hotel was being run by … Texans! And not just any Texans. These Texans were from Dallas, which all of England knew as the setting of the notorious soap opera starring Larry Hagman. Stuffy Londoners were not particularly amused. Where, they wanted to know, did a bunch of commoners get the nerve to think they could create a hotel that would become, as one of its publicity brochures claimed, “London’s foremost address for discriminating travelers”? London, after all, was the hotel capital of the world, home to such five-star institutions as the Ritz, the Savoy, the Connaught, and Claridge’s. Some had been operating long before Dallas even existed. More than a few critics wondered if the Lanesborough would become a British version of Southfork Ranch—or, as the Evening Standard put it, “a soap star’s mansion.”
In the international hotel industry, a number of elite hoteliers were also dumbfounded that the management contract of the most coveted new luxury hotel property in Europe was given to an unknown Dallas company called Rosewood Hotels and Resorts. It was known that Rosewood owned and operated two Dallas hotels, the Mansion on Turtle Creek and Hotel Crescent Court. Both regularly chalked up awards in the United States. But so what? This was England—and what did Rosewood know about England?
“Ah, yes,” sighed Rosewood president Atef Mankarios as he sat one afternoon in his office near downtown Dallas. He adjusted one of the sleeves of his perfectly tailored Versace suit. “Everyone still thinks we’re a bunch of cutthroat cowboys and oilmen.”
Frankly, I too had to wonder how a group of young Texas baby boomers—Mankarios, at age 43, is the eldest of Rosewood’s eighteen executives—won the rights to run a hotel five thousand miles away, one block from Buckingham Palace, the home of kings and queens. After spending an afternoon at the Rosewood offices, watching buttoned-down workaholics sip Diet Cokes and say things to one another like “Hey, FYI, we got new sales figures coming in today,” I decided I had to visit the Lanesborough. The hotel was about to throw a critically important party for some of the most prestigious