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Why Bernie Ecclestone isn't impressed by appearances

NEWS STORY
06/03/2013

You would have thought that Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone would be impressed by appearances. After all, F1 is the most-watched annual sports series and it attracts some of the most image-conscious people in the world. Ecclestone is personal friends with some of the world's most famous stars including Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton. But in fact he doesn't admire glitz and glamour. Quite the opposite indeed as an article by Pitpass' business editor Christian Sylt reveals.

Talking to Sylt recently, Ecclestone went into detail about one of his lesser-known business roles which is that of a hotelier. With a fortune of more than £2.6bn ($4bn) Ecclestone could afford to buy any hotel in the world. However, he didn't choose to buy a seven star property dripping with gold leaf or a boutique bolt-hole for celebrities. Instead, Ecclestone's place is a quaint chalet in the Swiss ski resort of Gstaad. It's not a Grand Dame which is renowned the world over but those who are in the know keep on coming back.

Writing in travel trade magazine Destinations of the World Sylt explains that Bernie's inn is called the Hotel Olden and he bought it with former Ferrari F1 sporting director Marco Piccinini. Partnering with the Italian was a wise choice because, in addition to his racing expertise, Piccinini knows a thing or two about hotels. From 1998 until 2009 he was a board member of SBM, the management company which runs casinos and hotels in Monaco including the renowned Hotel de Paris and Hermitage. The Olden is a much more homely hotel and wouldn't look at all out of place on a picture postcard.

Its roof is in the classic Swiss chalet triangular-shape whilst window boxes brimming with brightly-coloured plants adorn its façade. Its interior is furnished with wood of course and the only thing missing is a cuckoo clock.

"It was a hotel that needed saving. I got involved with it because I had been going there for a long time and it was up for sale. It was a spontaneous purchase," says Ecclestone.

The Olden started life as the Pinte Inn in 1690. In 1895 it was victim of a huge fire in Gstaad. A total of eight houses burned down and only four were rebuilt in stone. The Olden was one of them. Following reconstruction it continued to be operated as an inn and was purchased in 1924 by the Mullener family.

It first became famous for having a rather unique in-house orchestra since Hedi and Nelli, the two daughters of the hotel's owner Marie Mullener, were gifted yodellers. In 1952 the Olden was sold again, this time to Fausto Donizetti who boosted the reputation of its restaurants which stands to this day.

With just 16 rooms the Olden is like a David dominated by local goliaths the Gstaad Palace and the Grand Hotel Bellevue which both boast more rooms and a spa.

"We draw people to our hotel because it is more or less in the middle of town and has been there for 108 years so it has got a decent history. It has got probably the best restaurant around and is a warm cosy hotel," says Ecclestone.

A cosy hotel may seem to be out of place in the turbocharged world of F1 but in fact it fits Ecclestone's personality perfectly. Although he is a billionaire, he doesn't lead a typical tycoon lifestyle.

Son of a Suffolk trawlerman, Ecclestone epitomises rags to riches. He made his first million in the used car trade well over 50 years ago so being wealthy is certainly nothing new to him. Despite turning 82 last year he still works nine to six five days a week and until recently he drove himself to appointments in London. That all changed in 2010 when he was mugged on getting out of his car as he returned home late at night. Home for Ecclestone isn't a palace as he literally lives above the office in a medium-sized penthouse opposite Hyde Park in London.

True to his working-class origins he even gets bottles of milk delivered to his doorstep every day. It is a good illustration of why appearances don't impress him. Ecclestone has been around long enough to be able to see right through them.

Although Ecclestone has amassed a tremendous amount of money, he hasn't forgotten his roots and certainly doesn't approve of unnecessary spending. Sure, he has the obligatory yacht and private plane but they are used to help him do business. Lavish trimmings are thin on the ground. On one occasion in his plane the only drinks Ecclestone had to offer Renault F1 team principal Flavio Briatore were water or coffee. The inflight meal came in the form of a packet of Smarties and a bag of Hula Hoops and Ecclestone even had to rummage around to rustle them up.

Like the yacht and the plane, the Olden is just another business venture to Ecclestone and he told Sylt "I don't like staying in hotels but I have to. The alternative isn't so good. Normally I stay in the same hotels and they give me the same rooms so I know where I am. It is not like an adventure as it was in the early years."

He adds "I don't have any favourite hotels particularly but all the hotels in Asia are good. It is hard to find a bad hotel there."

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