““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
Walter Banks grew up in the hotel business. When he was about two years old, his father bought and began managing the historic Cavalier Hotel in Virginia Beach, Va. Then in 1960, when Walter was 17, his dad sold that property and purchased Fort Lauderdale's Lago Mar Resort and Club.
The younger Banks worked at the Florida property-everything from helping out at the beach to manning the front desk-during summer vacations from his studies at the University of Miami, where he earned a degree in finance. But his intention was to become a lawyer, not to follow in his father's footsteps.
"Then, in my senior year in college, Hurricane Cleo hit Fort Lauderdale," Banks told us. "That's when I made my decision to go into the hotel business. We'd almost lost the company, and I realized that it meant a lot to me. And my parents had done a lot for me and given me a great education in the hotel business, and I thought I'd take advantage of it.
"It was nice to be able to work with a hotel man who had been successful and had all that experience," he added. "I learned a lot through osmosis, a lot around the dining room table. It would have been a shame to waste that part of my education, which was as important as the degree [from the university]."
Apparently so, because Lago Mar- where Banks became president in 1972-has flourished under his control. Now one of Florida's premier resorts, it has attracted guests from all over the world, as well as the attention of the Ritz-Carlton chain. When we spoke with Banks, he was negotiating a deal to put Lago Mar under the Ritz-Carlton marquee.
Name: Walter Banks
Home: Fort Lauderdale
Occupation: Resort owner
Aircraft: 1985 Citation S/II
Personal: Wife Debbie. One son and one daughter; both now co-own the hotel with their father