Self-made multimillionaire Peter de Savary keeps his eye on the details - even when that means crawling on his resort's dining-room carpet to retrieve crumbs gone astray.
British businessman Peter de Savary is a perfect illustration of F. Scott Fitzgerald's maxim "The rich are different from you and me." While it's not unusual for travelers visiting the Bahamas to stop impulsively on the way to their hotel to pick up roadside souvenirs, for instance, last year de Savary stopped on the way to his Abaco Club to pick up a nursery.
He made his first few millions in the oil and shipyard industries, but de Savary is best known these days for the exclusive resort clubs he's developed over the past couple of decades. Among the first was the Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle, named for steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, one of the Scottish manor's former owners and a personal role model of de Savary. "The man who dies rich dies disgraced," Carnegie once said, and de Savary's lavish restoration of the castle, which he bought in 1990 and developed into a private sporting retreat for the well known and well heeled, certainly reflects this adage. One of the enormous bathrooms houses a billiard table.
Since then, PdS - his preferred moniker - has opened four other elegantly elite sporting estates and hotels, all but one members-only: Carnegie Abbey in Newport, Rhode Island, America's premier Gilded Age playground; Cherokee Plantation, a 4,000-acre colonial-era estate outside Charleston, South Carolina; the public Bovey Castle (actually a massive manor house, but a very royal-feeling retreat indeed), in Devon, England; and most recently, the tropically paradisiacal Abaco Club at Winding Bay in the Bahamas.
At the Abaco Club, members (who pay $65,000 to join, plus another $4,000 in annual dues) can buy one of 75 fully furnished $1.7 to $2.3 million turnkey cottages, but they also have the option of building their own homes on 60 sites available for $1.5 to $4 million. The one- to two-acre sites have drop-dead-gorgeous views of the brilliant blue sea and white-powder sand beach, not to mention the club's clifftop, oceanfront golf course, which numerous pro players have hailed as the first true Scottish-style tropical-links course in the Caribbean. Like famed St. Andrews in Scotland, the dramatically undulating, windblown oceanfront has been landscaped meticulously to maximize its natural changes and challenges.
Most of the multimillion-dollar sites are currently, however, vacant lots. Located not in developed Nassau, but on one of the Bahamas' more remote and rough-edged Family Islands, the spectacular $250 million resort was, only a couple of years ago, 500 acres of scrubby, overgrown jungle - including, PdS snarls, "50,000 bloody casuarinas." Every one of the dangerously invasive shallow-rooted pine trees (which blow over in hurricane winds and spread and take over the area) was cleared to allow re-establishment of native plants. PdS is known as a sound environmentalist.
But the 61-year-old dynamo is an even sounder businessman. Hence his impulse nursery buy. "I was coming from the airport," de Savary explains, "thinking, 'Gosh, home owners are going to need a huge number of trees and shrubs to landscape nicely. Where are they going to get them?' And as I was thinking it, we were driving past a nursery. So I went in, had a chat with the owner, and took over the place."
"That's PdS in a nutshell," his friend and public relations consultant Sandy Gardiner chuckles, defining the de Savary difference. "?'They'll need plants. I'll buy the nearest nursery. Done!'
"He has a gift that is absolutely awesome, of seeing business opportunities others would miss and acting on them decisively, to say the least," Gardiner says. "And that's not something he learned in business school. It's instinctive. He's a born entrepreneur."