When it comes to developing new ideas at Hotel ZaZa, it’s always a team effort. But Charles Givens says he’s probably the “head dreamer.” ZaZa hotels are known for their luxury décor, over-the-top events, and accommodations with a theatrical flair. The company’s two properties—in Dallas and Houston—have 45 different concept rooms between them, with names like Crouching Tiger, Moulin Rouge, and Bohemia. A longtime real estate developer, Givens got into the hotel business in 2002. “I love to see smart, talented, hardworking people enjoy themselves and I love to entertain,” he says. “In a different life I might have been a Broadway producer.”

Title: CEO, ZaZa Hotels and Resorts

Age: 63

Family: My wife Laurie is the best person in the world. We have five amazing children and three grandchildren.

Early entrepreneur: At age 13, I bought a small tractor with an installment loan from Sears. There was a new housing development in the area and I worked for builders, spreading dirt around homes as they were finished. I was paid by the job and not by the hour, so I was making five times per hour what other hourly workers were making. I learned about leverage at an early age.

Career path: As a kid I liked to dream, design, build, and make money. I was not the greatest student, but I was eager to get to work. After dropping out of college I worked as a construction foreman in Houston. At 22, I started my own development company. I was so lucky that I knew what I wanted to do at a young age. 

Worst job: Scraping tar out of rain gutters on the roof of a large shopping center for two weeks in August. My boss (my big brother) took the ladder down so I could not escape.

Development projects: I’ve been in real estate all of my life, developing condominiums, office buildings, hotels, apartments, retirement communities, and resort communities.

Why hotels: I had the creative urge to develop a hotel brand that would be friendly and stylish, with a theatrical culture. We think of our business as theater.

Themed hotel rooms: We want to give people surprises, and coming up with new ideas keeps our staff energized. For the last 10 years, ZaZa has constantly evolved with new hospitality ideas.

Growth plans: We are finishing 12 new ultra-luxury Bungalow Suites in Dallas and getting a new Hotel ZaZa started in Austin. New York, Los Angeles and Miami also are cities that need the Hotel ZaZa brand.

Leadership strategies: Have a vision. With no vision, there is no progress. Also, it’s important to have empathy for others.

Typical work day: I try to get calls or emails out early, so that everyone is motivated to get things accomplished that day.

Best part of your job: I love to design the projects that I develop, from the land planning of neighborhoods to detailed drawings of building exteriors, interiors, and furnishings. For me, the design process is not work, it is entertainment.

Biggest challenge: Right now, finding the perfect location for new ZaZa hotels in New York, Los Angeles, and Miami has been difficult.

Surviving the recession: The hotel industry was dramatically affected during the recession. Our entire ZaZa family pulled together and we came through with flying colors. Everything about our service and products improved dramatically. There is no better teacher
than adversity.

Leisure: I have a small ranch called Looney Tunes that sits on the shores of a lake in Oklahoma. I still like to drive tractors and equipment, so I go there to clear brush, dig holes, plant trees, and mostly just tear things up.

Burrently reading: Fall of Giants by Ken Follett.

Best advice: Find something that you are passionate about, get great at it, and get someone to pay you well for what you love to do. Also, never believe your own B.S.