Orlando's hotelier with a heart

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Harris Rosen with schoolchildren from the Orlando neighborhood of Parramore. The hotelier pays college tuition for Parramore students who graduate high school.
Harris Rosen with schoolchildren from the Orlando neighborhood of Parramore. The hotelier pays college tuition for Parramore students who graduate high school.
Megan Padilla
Megan Padilla

Have you ever heard of many hoteliers who pay for their associates' college tuition, and for their kids, too?

Or one who funds a healthcare plan and medical center to provide low-cost and high-quality healthcare and free prescriptions to his employees?

How about one who embraces underserved local neighborhoods and guarantees every child who lives there and who graduates from high school an all-expenses-paid college ride?

This is Harris Rosen and anyone familiar with the Orlando hospitality landscape has heard his name. Rosen is central to seven of his nine independent hotels, including the AAA Four Diamond Rosen Shingle Creek with its half-a-million square-feet of convention space and located near the Orange County Convention Center as well as the University of Central Florida's Rosen College of Hospitality Management, ranked by CEO World Magazine as No. 2 in the world (after Cornell, Mr. Rosen's alma mater).

His associates are fiercely loyal. Not only does he take care of them but he sees them often, too. "Today I've already visited four of our properties," he said in a phone interview. "That's why we haven't done anything outside of Central Florida."

Rosen's commitment to people rivals even that of his business empire, which he's been expanding and polishing on a cash-only basis (he takes no loans) since 1974. Last month, Rosen bought two AAA Three Diamond hotels on I-Drive, bringing his inventory to 6,694 guestrooms.

His philanthropy starts at home, providing affordable healthcare and free college to his employees, who all have free access to fitness and weight-loss programs at work. Rosen's approach with a self-funded insurance program and the Rosen Medical Center, a Place for Healing & Wellness — a 12,000 square-foot, freestanding facility that serves 5,700 associates and their families — has been able to keep costs steady through the years. As an added bonus, Rosen associates can visit the medical center "on the clock," with free transportation if needed.

His generosity expands to the community through a program begun in 1993 that guarantees every child in the underserved neighborhood of Tangelo Park an education supported from preschool through college. He replicated the model two years ago to a second Orlando neighborhood, Parramore, which serves about four times the number of children. Between the two charitable community programs, he has awarded more than 300 scholarships to Florida state colleges and universities and to vocational schools.

Last month he expanded the higher learning options available to both programs, announcing he would fund three scholarships to the Rollins College in Winter Park, a private college that is the oldest in Florida.

His giving extends beyond Orlando. "One-third of our Rosen associates are Haitian," said Rosen, who began his humanitarian projects in Haiti about 25 years ago. "We love our Haitian brothers and sisters."

His foundation, in partnership with NGO Food for the Poor, has built a school in the village of Les Cayes. The school was completed before Hurricane Matthew and sheltered nearly 200 villagers whose homes were destroyed. Rosen and his partners got to work, rebuilding those homes with new ones "that can withstand hurricane force winds," said Rosen. They also have solar panels, "so these families will have electricity for the first time."

Orlando's Rosen Shingle Creek.
Orlando's Rosen Shingle Creek. Photo Credit: Richard Pabis

So what does this all mean for Rosen Hotel guests? For starters, they can expect consistently attentive service from employees who feel valued and tend to stick around: Rosen's turnover rate is in the single digits.

Ask any staffer, from the front desk to groundskeepers, about working for Rosen and the response is heartfelt, emphatic, even overwhelming. One, a food-and-beverage manager, shared that his goal for three years had been to work for Rosen. He showed me a guest comment card with a hand-written note from Rosen. "He reads every card and encourages us to raise the bar by writing messages back with positive reinforcement."

A fine-dining server wearing a hand brace spoke about a debilitating condition that required surgery. "I only had to pay $100 for everything, and I was operated on at Jewett (Orlando's premier orthopedic clinic)!"

Asked about the role that his investment in people plays in growing his business, Rosen replied, "I don't look at it as an investment. I just look at it as doing the right thing. If indeed doing the right thing creates a happy work environment and if my family of associates appreciates some of the things we do, I'm happy. If it results in a positive performance and longevity, I'm happy."

"It's really very simple," he added.

Learn more about Rosen Hotels & Resorts at https://www.rosenhotels.com/

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