InterviewDavid Fattal – from page to hotel millionaire

David Fattal, founder and CEO of the Fattal Hotel Group
David Fattal, founder and CEO of the Fattal Hotel GroupGetty Images

David Fattal, 62, is one of the leading hoteliers worldwide. In Europe, its Fattal Hotel Group operates under the name Leonardo, Germany is the largest market with 61 hotels. The listed company comprises a total of 215 houses in 19 countries and most recently generated sales of almost EUR 1 billion.

Mr. Fattal, your major competitors include hotel dynasties such as Hilton and Marriott. Did you also get a few luxury houses in the cradle?

No, my parents were Jewish immigrants who came to Israel from Iraq in the 1950s. I was born in Haifa. My father was a lawyer, my mother a housewife. When I was little we were standing in front of a hotel and my father said, “This is for the rich.”

Since then have you dreamed of becoming a hotelier?

I got caught in the industry by chance. After the military service, a friend persuaded me to go to the hotel school. I actually did my apprenticeship in the luxury hotel that I had admired as a child with my father. But actually I wanted to be headmaster. That is why I also studied business and education at the same time.

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But then was working in the fine hotel more tempting?

At the beginning I carried suitcases as a page, greeted guests at the reception and waited in the restaurant. After a few months, the hotel management noticed me and offered me a job as a shift manager. I did that every evening after university until I graduated. Then I rose quickly, when I was 27 I was the managing director.

You have managed various hotels in Israel. When did you decide that you want to own one yourself?

First of all, I switched to a large investment company, which I helped to enter the hotel market. I was five years old and learned a lot from the financial experts. But my dream was to build a management company that runs an entire hotel chain. Like Hilton, Marriott or Sheraton. With the Fattal Group, I founded the first Israeli brand – and the largest.

When did you have the first million?

When I started my own business, I had nothing – and even debts on my house. In my previous jobs, I had never asked for a raise. But I made a few million with my management company – in Israeli shekels, but also in dollars.

So much that you did not limit yourself to management, but also bought hotels.

The first house in Eilat was a bargain where I only had to pay the debts. Then came the second, then the third. For the expansion in Europe, I used a fund to collect 100 million euros from financial investors. We now own 215 hotels. I never thought 20 years ago that we would grow so big.

Your company is worth just under EUR 2 billion on the stock exchange. You yourself hold over 60 percent of the shares. Are you indulging in luxury?

I have a nice penthouse with pool in Tel Aviv. I also own my own plane, a Bombardier Gulfstream. I need that because we are now active in 19 countries. And if I have to decide to buy 35 hotels, I have to look at all of them beforehand. And then I want to quickly go back to my five children.

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