Jonathan Plutzik retired as a Vice-Chairman of Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB), in 2003, after a 25-year career. His responsibilities included oversight for the firm’s work with U. S. state and local governments, international privatization initiatives, investment banking activities in Washington, D.C. and global financial services. He also led the CSFB team that provided advisory services to the City of New York during the city's financial crisis. From 2003 to 2005 Jonathan served as Chairman of Firaxis Games, a leading computer game company and home of Civilization, the widely acclaimed strategy game. Jonathan’s philanthropic work is considerable. He has a long legacy of charitable leadership as Chairman of the Board of the CORO New York Leadership Center, with additional Executive Leadership service to UJA-Federation of NY (including having served as a member of the Board and Executive Committee and Director of the Caring Commission, and he was Chair of the UJA-Federations Connect to Caring initiative.) He also serves as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, is on the Board of Directors of Fannie Mae and recently accepted a position on the founding board of Planet Word, a new Washington, D.C.-based museum that is dedicated to and focused on Language Arts. Jonathan received his B.A. from Brandeis University and his M.B.A. from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Jonathan is Co-President of the PG Family Foundation in NYC, and principal owner of The Betsy-South Beach, (www.thebetsyhotel.com), a hotel known for its community-based philanthropic work and its commitment to arts and culture.
How did you get into the hospitality industry?
I never imagined in my earlier professional life that I would become a hotelier. Yet having traveled the world, I had ideas about what ‘made’ a great hotel, so I saw it as a great challenge – to coalesce best lessons learned from others, yet to create something all our own.
Tell us about The Betsy Hotel. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the hotel?
The Betsy is a boutique hotel, and is the lone example of Florida Georgian architecture remaining in the area, and is situated in such a perfect juxtaposition to the more traditional Art Deco properties. We're right on the beach at Lummus Park, with a fourth floor roofdeck, so you can see the ocean, sand and palm trees while relaxing on a chaise with an iced beverage in hand.
Our business model is called PACE, which is an acronym for philanthropy, arts, culture, and education. Through this model we’ve envisioned Betsy as a gathering place for ‘things that matter’. Our doors are open to new ideas. More important is the concept that we are stronger together than alone. Our decor (and really everything in The Betsy) speaks to that notion; we take care to create an environment that is both restful and inspiring - with real art on the walls, as well as the energy of rich conversation and the world of great music throughout our spaces.
We promise our guests a luxury hotel experience – 100%. But they also receive gifts of poems on pillows, morning artist salons, and curated room libraries, for their entertainment and edification.
What strategic partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have attributed to The Betsy Hotels success?
Betsy's partnerships with community are key to our success. The Betsy has worked with over 250 charitable partners since our doors opened in 2009. We have also welcomed over 250 artist/creators to The Betsy Writer's Room (betsywritersroom.com).
We embrace the interests and needs of our partners and working together present wide-ranging programs that the greater community (including our guests and those living in the region) attend without charge. For example, in July 2015, we will host ten chamber music concerts at the hotel to support the Miami Summer Music Festival in partnership with Barry University and Steinway, which is loaning two spectacular grand pianos. These events are free and open to the public.
In October 2015 we will host The Betsy’s A Cappella Festival (Miami’s first A Capella festival). In its second year, we will host almost 200 singers from high schools and colleges across the nation to champion the power of the arts to bring people together. Partners include the Miami Dade County Public Schools and Auction.com (a corporate sponsor and showcase underwriter). This event is both on and off property because we expect 1000 people to attend; 600 attended our first year.
What industry trends are you noticing?
I have noticed these trends, which we are capitalizing on: the importance of authenticity, the importance of guest enriching experience, the primacy of communal gathering and work spaces, the criticality of the curated and unique experience/environment. We also take advantage of the realization that culturally driven events and experiences are a community and customer draw, the importance of coffee and electric power/wireless connectivity as well as the importance of a differentiated product
Do the Right Thing. Consistently Doing the right thing makes decision-making easier and produces consistently better outcomes.
The Betsy Hotel's Motto?
Expect no more. This is happiness. These are my father's words, and words we actually attach to most everything printed about our hotel. My father was a major American poet (Hyam Plutzik), whose work inspires so much of what we do in the arts and literature spaces at Betsy, and these words capture our mission and vision so perfectly.
Your greatest success as Proprietor of The Betsy Hotel? Most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?
We’ve had many incredible moments. I’m especially proud that several of the world’s great media sources have determined that we are now among the ‘great literary arts hotels of the world’. Between 2012 and 2015, we received this recognition from USA Today, CNN, and the NY Times, among others. Yet I am also proud of the myriad artists and thinkers that have come through our doors as part of our Betsy Writer’s Room program. From emerging wordsmiths just out of college to US Poets Laureates, each and every one of them has graced the property with creative ideas and good will.
There are always challenges in business. For sure, there are periodic frustrations as we continuously elevate our standards yet work diligently to anticipate marketplace changes. What we’ve learned over and over again is about the power of our team, and how people working together toward a common goal can overcome challenges – and be better for it.
Your advice to an aspiring hotelier?
Creativity Takes Courage. I am borrowing another quote here (by Henri Matisse) to answer your question. It’s one frequently worn at Betsy by our artists, patrons, partners, and guests – as we offer it on a pin at our front desk. I would encourage anyone aspiring to create something new, to have confidence in their vision - yet of course to take the time to understand their particular marketplace, to ensure connectivity between the idea and the opportunity to succeed.
Describe the ideal experience at The Betsy Hotel.
An ideal Betsy experience is filled with relaxation and renewal - from a glass of champagne upon arrival, to restful reading on the roof deck, to a midnight massage in The Betsy Spa, Miami’s only fully outdoor space, to uninterrupted slumber in our amazing beds, to a morning salon with a world-known writer, and BLT cuisine before, after, and in-between.
How important are architecture/design to the success of The Betsy?
We embrace the importance of architecture and design. The Betsy Ross was designed by L. Murray Dixon, one of Miami Beach’s most important historic architects. Our interior designers are Diamante Pedersoli and Carmelina Santoro, who re-imagined The Betsy-South Beach in 2009, in seamless partnership with our leadership team, infusing the hotel with a 21st century feel while paying homage to its heritage and legacy. Indeed, every single item at Betsy has been carefully selected and placed in order to delight, inspire, and spark memories.
How do you motivate your employees?
Our employees are motivated by excellence. Reaching for and achieving great things is its own natural reward. Of course, we also promote from within, and encourage staff to growing by exploring areas of hospitality they may not have prior considered. I’ve heard our employees say that our commitment to philanthropy and community inspire them to reach for higher goals in their own lives.
One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?
Our BLT Executive Chef Laurent Tourondel’s Tuna Tartare. Trust me, there is nothing like it. PS Maybe his popovers too.
What literature is on your bed stand?
I’m rereading a book called “What Poetry Brings to Business”, by Claire Morgan (U of Michigan Press). It’s sheds light on how a creative enterprise like poetry unexpectedly shares so much with workplace challenges, namely the need to create order out of chaos, and to find just the right ‘words’ (both metaphorically and literally) to tell your story.
Role model - business and personal ?
My father, Hyam Plutzik. While I lost him young – when I was only 7, his poetry provides continued lessons on how to live a meaningful life. Not to mention that his decision to become a poet (and teacher) was extremely courageous.
I am passionate about my work at The Betsy. In creating a business model that is fueled by philanthropy, arts, culture, and education, we have so much opportunity serve our community. It’s that imperative to do our best that leaves little time for anything else. It’s what gets me up in the morning each and every day.
Favorite travel destination?
I imagine that it would come as no surprise that while I travel a good deal, Miami Beach is my favorite destination – for its physical beauty, its multiculturalism, and its ambience.
What's next for The Betsy Hotel?
The Betsy-South Beach on Ocean Drive is poised to be a larger and more robust arts destination with an expansion that will join the historic Betsy, located at 1440 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach with the property immediately behind it, The Carlton at 1433 Collins Avenue.
The groundbreaking expansion will join the work of two of the most historically significant Art Deco architects, L. Murray Dixon whose Betsy Hotel is the area’s sole remaining example of Florida Georgian architecture, and Henry Hohauser, who designed The Carlton.
The new hotel will have 135 guestrooms, a 3,000 square foot Roof Deck, rooftop pool with extraordinary city and ocean views, an expanded fitness center and spa, and a library for hotel guests and the public who attend the hotel’s robust PACE programs, including author readings, literary salons, music performances and more. We will also have substantially more public space which will permit us to engage with community in a substantially increased manner.