Where wealthy executives go to escape day-to-day business pressures
Washington — Do you take your briefcase to the beach? Have you ever wished it were possible to make business calls from the shower? Would your day seem empty without your morning Wall Street Journal, and are you on a first-name basis with the maids who come in at midnight to clean the office?
If so, how about a week in the Orkney Islands, off Scotland, in an inn where barking seals serve as an alarm clock and the smell of fresh-baked breakfast biscuits seeps through the floor? Maybe you'd prefer the Guana Island Club, accessible mainly by pack goat. And for the really tough cases there's Irwin Lodge - so deep in the Colorado Rockies the outside world can be reached only by radio.
''You're finding corporate executives now who see the value of a vacation, of going to an exotic location completely different from the 9-to-5 world,'' says Andrew Harper, publisher of the Hideaway Report.
The Hideaway Report is a four-year-old newsletter addressed to businessmen and professionals who want to leave noise, neon, and hordes of junior account executives on package tours far behind them. It leans heavily toward islands and country inns, with an occasional aside such as a description of a Spanish castle for rent on the Costa del Sol.
The median income of the newsletter's 12,000 subscibers is $100,000. Seventy-five percent are business executives, mostly presidents and partners, says Harper. Twenty-two percent are attorneys or physicians. Less than 5 percent are under 40 years old. Circulation will be capped at 15,000, a level Harper predicts he will reach by the end of the year.
''It's obvious that I touched a nerve,'' he said. ''There were people who truly were interested in getting away from the crowds and hoi polloi. And we're talking about people you generally wouldn't think would want to go somewhere and get away from the phone.''
Harper says he personally pays all travel costs involved in producing his newsletter - no junkets. ''Andrew Harper'' is, in fact, a pseudonym; Harper uses his real name for travel bookings.
For $39 annually, subscribers to the Hideaway Report learn which of the St. Vincent Grenadines have a ''pace as gentle as a falling feather'' and which have a pace as gentle as a falling piano, due to a daily influx of 800 cruise-ship passengers. They read about Hambleton Hall, an English manor on Rutland Water where the rooms have names, such as Fern, and come complete with bedside tins of shortbead. They find out the price of a double room on Marlon Brando's coral atoll, Tetiaroa ($770 a day).
If you've grown tired of calling London at 4 a.m. for the opening price of gold, consider a weekend at The Point - a log lodge, once owned by the Rockefellers, on New York's Upper Saranac Lake. Dinner is occasionally served on a barge in water, with the kitchen staff cooking on shore. During his last visit , says Mr. Harper, dessert was served from a gleaming mahogany runabout, a 1940 Chris-Craft, which came roaring out from shore to present a blueberry souffle at just the right moment.
''I thought, 'That's a nice touch,' '' said Harper.
But nice touches don't come cheap. What sort of person will pay the stiff prices such luxury can command?
''We get a lot of executives who have really cranked themselves up into high speed with their businesses,'' said Dan Thurman, owner of Irwin Lodge.
Irwin Lodge has no direct phone, no TV, few newspapers. Quite a few guests come expecting to call their office every day, but ''I make it very difficult for them,'' says Mr. Thurman.
Most aggressive executives hurry too much, he says, and need a hideaway to take a fresh look at themselves and their work habits.
''You can't get that at the local country club,'' he added.
Tony Clark, owner of Blueberry Hill Inn in Goshen, Vt., says his midweek guests tend to be New York executives escaping ''the hustle bustle.'' The inn, a converted 19th-century farmhouse with but eight rooms, is philosophically about as far from Manhattan as one is likely to get on this planet.
Clark says the most successful executives are the ones who can cut themselves off from the workaday world. ''The worst executive is one who gives the Blueberry Hill phone number to his secretary,'' he said.
The benefits of hiding away are not limited to individuals wanting to recharge their batteries. More and more corporations - such as International Telephone & Telegraph and General Foods - now routinely pack up their top executives and send them off to retreats to solve a corporate problem. Many inns and islands may be rented for such occasional conferences; others specialize in them.
''We do not get the general meeting of the salesmen,'' said James Flaherty, owner of Troutbeck, a rambling inn that functions as a corporate retreat in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts during the week.
The inn is selected by top management as a site for conferences dealing with specific problems, or for planning, Flaherty said.
They are ''forced to eyeball each other in a homelike setting where they can relax and concentrate'' on solutions, he explained.
A conference in such a setting can keep trains of thought from becoming diffused, says John Manken, president of the Baca, a conference center in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of the Southwest