|By Joyce Saenz Harris, The Dallas Morning News
Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News (Reprinted with permission)
Jun. 8, 1997 - On this Friday evening in late April, The Mansion on Turtle Creek shines even more brightly than usual.
The night's black-tie merrymaking goes on under the seemingly unruffled gaze of the Mansion's soft-spoken boss. As managing director of Rosewood Hotels' flagship property, Jeffrey M. Trigger's quick, dark eyes seldom miss even the tiniest detail. He doesn't have to raise his voice; usually, he doesn't even have to instruct or trouble-shoot. His proficient staff is on the job.
Thus, the Mansion's usual stratospheric standards crank up yet an extra notch or two, and that which mere humans can control is flawlessly done. Cadillacs glide to a canopied entrance, lighting is artfully subdued, silverware gleams, champagne flutes sparkle, and lush bouquets from Rosewood's Zen Floral Design perfume the air. There are no disappointments in the unobtrusively cordial service, the jazz quartet playing Gershwin, the fabulous dinners and desserts from chef Dean Fearing's renowned kitchen.
All this for the weekend's guests, who are not just your usual roster of CEOs, statesmen, Hollywood celebs or European royalty. Tonight, the Mansion entertains her colleagues, fellow recipients of the coveted Mobil Five Star Awards.
North America's top hoteliers and restaurateurs are here, as are Mobil Corp.'s executives. They -- like Mr. Trigger and Rosewood's executives -- expect the very best, especially from one of the very few five-star properties honored for both food and lodging.
As usual, the Mansion delivers. "Everything about it is so personal, so intimate," says Rick Segal, attending as managing director of New York's five-star St. Regis.
"If you look at the finest in restaurants as well as lodgings, the bar is constantly being raised," says Robert O'Leary, who oversees Mobil's Five Star Awards program. "So the goal is not just getting the award -- it's retaining it." A double five-star rating, he adds, is "a very special distinction."
The only one not duly impressed is Mother Nature, for Dallas is drenched in rain that night and the next day. That means the next evening's party at Sarah and Ross Perot Jr.'s ranch must be moved indoors, the planned hayride will be canceled, and only a couple of fanatic visiting golfers will play the soggy local greens.
The weather, Mr. Trigger concedes later, is "one of these things you can't quite control.
"But that's what separates the good from the best: the ability to be flexible with situations you can't control," he says. "You never know what a guest is going to need, or what the weather's going to give you.
"You have to have the resources and the professionalism to flow with it."
Every weekday morning at 9 a.m., the Mansion's department heads gather with Mr. Trigger to review the day's arriving guests and their special requirements, which the Mansion computers chronicle right down to the guests' preference on pillows and whether they like a lemon slice in their ice water.
Perhaps it's the queen of England on a brief tour of Dallas. Or the first family, in town for a wedding.
It might be Robin Williams, Paul Simon, Christie Brinkley, Kevin Costner, Elizabeth Taylor, Julia Child, Margaret Thatcher, Pinchas Zukerman or Kathy Bates. Or Peter Criss, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Gene Simmons -- collectively known as the band Kiss.
From royalty to rockers, The Mansion on Turtle Creek has welcomed them all, and "the bigger they are, the nicer they are," Mr. Trigger says. The Mansion provides a soothing, homelike atmosphere, discretion and privacy. Only one ego-happy guest has had the chutzpah actually to request paparazzi on arrival.
For the past five years, Mr. Trigger has been the Mansion's host -- and one of the world's best hotel managers, according to Leaders magazine. He is well-known in the hospitality industry for being calm, urbane and perceptive, a team builder who is quick to share credit for his successes.
"He never misses a chance to pass a compliment to
the staff," says consultant Ronald F. Jones OBE, the retired director and
general manager of Claridge's in London. "It means a lot to them, because
he recognizes their talent.
Mr. Jones and his wife, Eve, recently wrote a book called Grand Hotelier, and they regard Mr. Trigger as a prime example of that breed. "He's our favorite hotel manager, because he's always there," Mr. Jones says. "He has his fingerprints all over the place," says the St. Regis' Mr. Segal. "That's needed, because we have to create the magic in a place. You have it or you don't."
The Mansion's regular guests naturally know Mr. Trigger as the consummate hotelier. But longtime friends and colleagues can tell you that he also is a musician, martial arts enthusiast, civic advocate and doting father.
He and his wife, graphic artist Kathy Steele Trigger, live upstairs at the Mansion in an apartment-sized master suite with daughters Coralee, who is almost 8, and Shannon, 5, and a cocker spaniel, Maggie. The children's colorful drawings decorate not only the apartment but also Daddy's business office.
"This industry is tough on marriages," Kathy Trigger says, noting the high divorce rate among hotel directors. But by living in at the Mansion, "our situation is perfect. Jeff is able to be involved with the girls" in a way he could not be if the Triggers lived away from the property.
"There is no other way," Mr. Trigger says. "It's not a job, it's a way of life." Living in, he says, "allows the girls to appreciate what I do and to understand" the demands placed upon him. But it also allows him to have lunch with his family, to share special occasions (such as the Clintons' visit) with the little girls, and to spend roughly two minutes a day "commuting."
Mrs. Trigger says her husband is "a concerned and warm dad" who carpools, takes his kids to swimming lessons and goes on Indian Princess campouts. (His tribal name, she reveals, is "Iron Horse"; Coralee's is "Squeaky Bunny.") The family periodically decamps for Cypress Springs, where the lake house they acquired 18 months ago allows the girls to romp and their parents to relax away from the decorous, demanding precincts of the Mansion.
At such times, the impeccably groomed Mr. Trigger takes out his boat and starts fishing. He also stops shaving his famously heavy beard and "looks like a gorilla in about two days," gibes his friend Kevin Garvin, vice president of food service operations for Neiman Marcus.
Launching Mr. Trigger's boat is a dicey maneuver, Mr. Garvin says. "He bought this boat, but he never measured it. There is about a fraction of a millimeter of space for it to fit in the boathouse. He's a bag of nerves every time it goes out or in."
Mr. Garvin says his friend is the overly analytical type who labels every item in his tackle box and likes to talk a decision to death. Kathy Trigger says that when they discussed marriage, she voted to elope to Europe. The couple eventually did so -- after Jeff, ever the analyzer, sorted out a lengthy pro-and-con list.
But that sort of attention to detail is a trait that serves him well in his work, according to Mr. Trigger's boss.
"He has a great ability to work with what we call the three P's: product, profit and people," says Atef Mankarios, president and CEO of Rosewood Hotels and Resorts Inc., who once held the job Mr. Trigger now has. "He understands the economics; he understands people, both staff and guests; and he understands the Rosewood product, the luxury product.
"He's a great hotelier and a good businessman."
When Jeff Trigger was growing up in Northern California, his friends expected he would someday run for office, not run a hotel. And when Mr. Trigger was attending Cal State-Sacramento, he planned to go into hospital administration.
Now -- life being the unpredictable thing it is -- instead of working in hospitals, Mr. Trigger works in hospitality. Instead of being in politics, he has to be politic.
It might not have been his original ambition, but hotel management is a perfect fit for his temperament. "It's amazing how well suited he is to what he does," says Mrs. Trigger. "I don't know how many people can say that about their careers."
Jeffrey Trigger was born in Los Alamos, N.M. ("I glow in the dark," he jokes), where his father, Dr. Kenneth Trigger, was a nuclear physicist. Jeff is the third of four children. The family later moved to Los Altos, Calif., and then to Livermore, Calif., where Dr. Trigger worked on classified government weaponry projects at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratories.
The Trigger kids had no idea what Daddy did for a living. Neither did their mother, Esther, a schoolteacher. Not only was his father's work arcane, "it was top secret. Totally hush-hush," Mr. Trigger says. "He would come home, and we'd say, `How was work?' and he'd say, `Fine.' He would never be able to tell us anything that he did, ever."
Livermore was a ranching community of 30,000, an hour east of San Francisco in the Livermore Valley. Most of the kids in the Triggers' neighborhood had fathers who worked at the lab and never talked about it. Vietnam took away sons and boyfriends, and the social upheavals of the 1960s roiled nearby Berkeley.
But for Livermore's Class of 1973, the draft was history and life was almost like a version of American Graffiti, complete with innocent pranks, cruising the strip in muscle cars, riding motorcycles to the A&W stand, and drinking the occasional forbidden brewski on "Oly Hill" (named, of course, after Olympia beer).
Jeff was a Boy Scout who was elected to the Order of the Arrow; he was in the school jazz and marching bands, and he was on the wrestling squad until the varsity coach (who outweighed him, 260 pounds to 110) broke Jeff's arm at the elbow during a workout.
"I was fast," Mr. Trigger says with a laugh, "but he was big."
Jeff also was an aspiring politician who changed Livermore High's constitution so that he could run for student body president as a sophomore and serve as a junior. Until then, only seniors could serve as president, and "we thought it was undemocratic," says Delbert Gee, a San Francisco attorney who has known Mr. Trigger since fourth grade.
"I thought he'd be a politician, because he's a born leader," Mr. Gee says. "If there was one guy in our entire high school class that people thought would be `somebody' someday, it was Jeff Trigger."
The Triggers' home was the social center for neighborhood kids. The house had two boisterous Dalmatians, an above-ground swimming pool (which "exploded" one day) and a basement where teenagers could make music. All of the Trigger kids took piano lessons and played other instruments as well, and Jeff's older brother Vic later became a professional guitarist.
"He was like a mentor to us all," says schoolmate Joe Gotch, now a corporate show producer in Lodi, Ariz. "Vic was an excellent guitar player, and Jeff was a drummer. We'd all go down in their basement, make noise and talk for hours about our futures as rock stars." Jeff was in love with the drums and tried to emulate jazzmen Billy Cobham and Buddy Rich. On the rock side, he admits, "it was a whole lot more Led Zeppelin than Ringo Starr." His high-school band, called 7:29 O.P.D. (Officially Pronounced Dead), played at temple dances and local parties. Music also helped pay his way through college: "I played in every raunchy bar in Sacramento," he says.
Mr. Trigger still speaks wistfully of his drum kit, which he kept for years until he came to the Mansion. At his previous job, he says, "I had it down in the sub-basement of the Adolphus," where his drumming couldn't disturb the guests.
Music remains an important part of Mr. Trigger's life: He has been on the executive committee of the Dallas Opera, and he still keeps a baby grand piano in his living room. And memories of his youthful music-making inevitably are wrapped up with memories of his older brother.
Vic Trigger died in March 1996, at age 44, after a two-year battle with an aggressive brain tumor. The loss of his brother, Jeff Trigger says, "really puts things in perspective" for him.
At the end, Vic "wasn't in a coma, but he was sort of non-responsive, and he just kept hanging on. His daughter was sleeping in the other bed in his hospital room, and his wife and our whole family were there as well.
"My sister is pretty religious, and she had lit candles and wanted us to hold hands and sing some songs. We did that, and it was right at midnight when we stopped.
"All of a sudden, his daughter woke up and screamed. She jumped out of bed and let out a shriek, and said, `Mommy, I feel so cold!'
"And that's exactly when he died."
Vic had recorded a few albums, and not long ago his brother played one of them again. But as yet, "it's just too much, too much to listen to it," Mr. Trigger says reflectively.
When Kathy Steele first saw Jeff Trigger at college, she thought he was the best-looking janitor she'd ever seen. Actually, he was the head resident, in charge of the other dormitory advisers. Kathy was a junior, new to Cal State-Sacramento, and Jeff was carrying a broom through the lobby of her coed dorm, so the mistake was understandable.
Kathy volunteered to be a floor rep and got to know Jeff through meetings. But to her disappointment, Jeff would not date residents of his dormitory. They remained strictly friends until the next year, when Jeff moved off campus to finish his M.B.A. while managing the student union. Then, he felt, it was finally ethical to date Kathy.
They married in May 1981, in Lucerne, Switzerland, having followed the bride's plan to elope to Europe and later throw a big party back home for their friends and family. Mr. Trigger, meanwhile, had given up on hospital management, which he had discovered did not appeal to him after all. His father suggested he look at hotel management instead, and Mr. Trigger eventually got a job at the Woodlake Inn & Resort and later with Amfac Hotels in Sacramento. The company sent him to San Francisco, then to Hawaii, then back to San Francisco.
Mr. Trigger moved from the finance side to operations, where he really wanted to be. And when Amfac assigned him to work at the Adolphus Hotel (which it then managed) in May 1984, it was "a big move," Mrs. Trigger says. "I was not happy."
She was born in Texas but, being a military brat, had not grown up in the state. She also did not relish the idea of re-establishing her graphic-arts career in a new city. Now, after 13 years in Dallas, Mrs. Trigger is proud of her Texas roots. "She likes to remind me that she and our girls are native Texans," Mr. Trigger says.
Mr. Trigger's career advanced rapidly at the Adolphus. Within a year he became resident manager; by August 1986, he was managing director and brought the hotel and restaurant up to Mobil four-star status. The American Automobile Association gave the Adolphus and its restaurant five diamonds, AAA's top rating. Industry buzz had it that Mr. Trigger had talked a Mobil inspector into coming down to Dallas, and the Adolphus was about to snag five stars as well.
That naturally got the attention of Atef Mankarios, who was then managing director of the Mansion and coveted that five-star rating for his own hotel. "I knew he was someone to watch," Mr. Mankarios says. "He was really getting them on the map as a luxury hotel."
The Adolphus never did get those five Mobil stars -- possibly because Mr. Mankarios made sure Rosewood hired away their star manager. "He was wasted on a large hotel," Mr. Mankarios says. He adds that he now looks for "mirror images" of Mr. Trigger when he profiles other potential managers for Rosewood, seeking that elusive blend of business sense and a hotelier with personal flair.
Mr. Trigger is "a creative thinker and a rather poetic person," says Rosewood's Caroline Rose Hunt (who identifies herself as "the lady behind the hotels"). "He's a very dedicated employee who is there morning, noon and night. You have to admire that."
During his years in Dallas, Mr. Trigger has become a quiet but effective mover in the community. With parade director Betsy Field, who ran the Adolphus' PR and now is the Mansion's marketing director, he helped organize the Adolphus-Children's holiday parade. He has served as chairman or on the board of directors for various state and local hotel and tourism associations, and is on the board of the Dallas Chamber of Commerce.
Mr. and Mrs. Trigger are on the advisory board of the SPCA, and both of them are active in the First Unitarian Church. (Before their marriage, Mr. Trigger had been reared as a Jew and Mrs. Trigger as a Roman Catholic.) Perhaps closest to his heart at the moment is the Student Community Partnership. Collaborating with the nonprofit agencies Community in Schools and the Family Gateway, the Partnership has just launched the placement of students from Skyline, Kimball and North Dallas high schools in summer jobs, provided and mentored by the Hotel/Motel Association of Greater Dallas and coordinated by staff made available through sponsorships from Rosewood Corp., Bristol Hotel Co., the Mobil Foundation and Texas Commerce Bank. The idea is to give at-risk teenagers a constructive way to spend the summer and, just possibly, a path out of hopelessness -- perhaps even a lifelong career.
"This whole notion was Jeff's," says Sandy Chavarria, president and CEO of Community in Schools. "A lot of people have ideas and talk about them. Jeff had an idea, worked on it over a year, and we're doing it. He's a great leader, always there and making sure it happened.
"He's a contributor," Ms. Chavarria adds. "He always downplays his own role."
Jan Mitura of Family Gateway agrees. She remembers when a flash flood inundated the Gateway with water, and the only person she could think of to call was Mr. Trigger, who was on their advisory board. He brought cleaning equipment and stayed to work until the job was done. "That's Jeff Trigger," Ms. Mitura says. "He's a great thinker, but he's also a person of action."
Mr. Trigger can be very persuasive, says Peter Kline, president and CEO of Dallas-based Bristol Hotel Co., another participant in the Student Community Partnership. "We had breakfast over that, and he very nicely persuaded me that I should be giving money to it, also," Mr. Kline says with a laugh. "Jeff has a way of convincing people in a very nice way that they ought to participate."
Mr. Kline adds that many business executives make charitable contributions that are in fact corporate donations. "But if you look at some things Jeff does, there are personal checks attached, sometimes substantial ones.
"He's someone who really cares."
© 1997 The Dallas Morning News