City & Business: Rocco at head of table

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The Independent Online
CHARLES, Rocco and Charles Forte deserve to award themselves an extra toast at their regular family lunch today. Rocco, chief executive of the Forte hotels and catering group founded by his father, has won a seat at the new chairman's committee that will run the Savoy Hotel Group. More satisfyingly, he has also seen off Giles Shepard, the last determined defender of the Holy Grail of the Savoy's old-time standards. Mr Shepard is to be replaced by Ramon Pajares of the Four Seasons group, or another international hotelier more au fait with modern methods. And, as a cherry on the cake, Rocco has clinched the takeover of the French-based Meridien hotel chain after the mandatory marathon talks with its owner, Air France, and the French government.

Not a bad week's work. But it is now becoming apparent to the outside world that Rocco is coming close to the most important achievement of all, both for his shareholders and his own professional self-esteem. He is increasingly being seen as his own man, with his own place in the limelight undimmed by the broad shadow his father still casts across the group.

Running hotels must contain some secret elixir, for it seems to breed longevity. Charles, Lord Forte, and his sworn rival at the Savoy, Sir Hugh Wontner, barely met until 1968, when they were nearly 60. Sir Hugh died only two years ago, and Lord Forte is still as vigorous as ever, a chipper 85.

Understandably, Rocco was a nervous young man when he became chief executive of his father's company at only 36. Charles continued to make the big decisions in what has turned into the most prolonged handover of power since the Romans invaded Britain.

But now Rocco speaks and acts with more self-confidence. He has handled the Byzantine tactics of the Savoy with commendable diplomacy; it might have been difficult for his father to stomach the frustrations of the rank-and-file directorship that Rocco has made do with there for the past five years.

These days Charles the elder mainly contents himself with venting his views over Sunday lunch, where no doubt he is given a respectful hearing. And the other Charles sitting round that table? He is Rocco's two-year-old son, already being groomed for eventual succession.