That sort of mutually beneficial back-scratching has figured largely into, de ­Savary says, "all the businesses I've been in. I never ever felt committed to any particular area of business, but I have always been a people's person who relates well to people of all nationalities, ages, colors, and creeds. So I always realized that whatever businesses I was in would be highly dependent on good interaction with other people." Even PdS's most crucial financial decisions have been based on personal instincts about people, from intuiting risk/reward ratios to hiring staff. "I never read résumés," he confesses cheerfully.

While his attitudes about people ­remain constant, his attitude toward making money­ changed radically after two near-­fatal events in the late 1980s: an emergency major operation (for a stress-related disorder) in which several feet of his intestines were removed; and a small-plane crash, in which he, his wife, and three of their five daughters nearly drowned in the Caribbean. "Before, it never occurred to me that I wasn't infallible, that life would ever end," he says. "After those two things I became less greedy, less driven by materialistic gain. I realized there's a finite amount of time, and nothing's going to go with you. Now I'd rather concentrate on creating things that are original, pioneering, that will stand the test of time."

LESS DRIVEN? HAH. When it comes to striving for excessive wealth, perhaps. But when it comes to striving for perfection on behalf of his paying customers, one only needs to experience a single de Savary workday to realize that the "de" must be an abbreviation for "details." And catching the man at work isn't hard. He visits each resort for several days to a week per month, and prowls the places from beach to broom closet to personally ensure that every little detail is just so.

At the Abaco Club, while lunching in the bayfront tiki-hut restaurant and bar with avid golfer/member Sir Sean Connery (who looks his usual suave self, despite eye-­popping plaid golf shorts) de Savary excuses­ himself to call a manager's attention to someone lounging, almost out of eye range, down the beach: "Will you go buy some Skin So Soft, immediately? As many cases as you can get. That woman is getting eaten alive by mosquitoes."

A little later, in the clubhouse, a meeting gets interrupted repeatedly as he moves from the table, with apologies, to corner staff: "Excuse me a moment. You need to put good locks on the loo doors. I tried to go in, there was someone there ...

"I'm sorry, I'll be right with you." He whirls in another direction, intercepting the club's riding instructor. "Julia, the horses. Are they getting enough to eat? All I'm saying is it's not hard to get corn ..."

Unfortunately, only the privileged few get to personally experience the enduring whirlwind that is de Savary in action, since his clubs' basic policy is that nonmembers are allowed, as "prospective members," only one visit in a lifetime. But Bovey Castle is an exception. In Devon's Dartmoor National Park, the lordly early-20th-century estate - mutilated by former owners, but since restored to grandeur by PdS, who's a historic conservationist as well as an environmentalist - is a regular resort hotel that also offers golfing memberships. So anyone can enjoy the de Savary experience.