Gregory Peck was not what I expected. His very name implies tall; hes on the short side. Hes already well into a second career, but hes only 32, with a baby face that suggests younger still. And though his ambitions would be consistent with an outsized ego, he comes across as soft-spoken and modest.

But what I found most interesting about Peck was his approach to his hotel business. He seems to pay scant attention to many of the current business and marketing assumptions about hospitality.

Peck, with high school friend Matt Moss, aims to build a hotel group. Their business is five years old, and they have one hotel, The Crescent, in Beverly Hills. Its a small but stylish property, 30-plus rooms on two floors, with a well-regarded restaurant and bar.

If that property was a baby step, their next seems like an attempt to leap the Grand Canyon. Their current project is a 23-story tower near Cooper Square in Manhattan, being built from the ground up. The amount of money needed just to purchase that much New York real estate is substantial, and the additional investment required to actually build something that grand from scratch makes one hope, perhaps somewhat paternalistically, that these guys know what the hell theyre doing.

When we met for lunch, all I knew about Peck was that he was a former finance guy who had worked with Ian Schrager, the godfather of the boutique and style hotel movement, and that his strong interest in design had inspired him to evolve from funding hotels to building them.

Its not an unprecedented story line. Barry Sternlicht, who created Starwood, was a real estate guy who became fascinated with the hotels being built on the land he was trading. (Pecks partner, Moss, also has a background in real estate.)

These days, money seems easier to acquire for hotel investment when there is some residential aspect, and I had assumed Peck would be incorporating apartments into the new property.

But Peck seemed to find the idea distasteful, from both a financial and philosophical perspective. If the hotel is put to good use, you shouldnt have to dilute the asset, he said. I dont think its a good approach. If youre going to do a hotel, I say do a hotel. You have to be comfortable with the model. Youre in the business of leasing rooms for one night, and yes, that can be volatile. But we dont want to be in any other business.

Common wisdom, common sense even, dictates that you have to define your target demographic, but Peck is equally contrarian when it comes to structuring his hotel to appeal to a specific clientele. 

Theres a trap in saying, This is who we are for, Peck said. I want to be inclusive. It wont be for everyone, but I want my parents and my contemporaries to be comfortable there. I want guests from creative and fashion, but also businesspeople.

Among the signature features hes shooting for are fast room service, lots of storage space and a performance venue thats evocative of the old Copacabana nightclub.

There was a lot of glamour back then, he said. Frankly, people have evolved beyond trendy. Sleek design, yes, but not off the trend meter. Im not interested in being the hottest place for five minutes. I want Old World hospitality. Its more important for the staff to be well-trained than good-looking. He paused. Well, nice to have both, of course, but Ill err on the side of service.

Peck describes Schrager as a friend and inspiration, and indeed, The Crescent suggests an updated Morgans. A good hotel needs soul, Peck said. Electricity. You need to feel it when you walk in the door. Ian would simply say, Lightning strikes again when a hotel would open successfully. 

Saying this and actually producing lightning are, of course, two entirely different matters, and it can be difficult for someone to move successfully from bean-counter to visionary. I dont agree with all that Peck says (people have evolved beyond trendy?), but I think his vision incorporates a fundamental understanding that separates him from the financial guys who fail when they try to create lightning.

Business, Peck seems to recognize, is ultimately more about chemistry than math.


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