Javier Benito glides into his office, greeting his guest with the kind of Old World civility one doesn't expect to meet in these often hurly-burly days of hearty slap-on-the-back howdy dos. Benito, 43, evinces his Mexican heritage in a laid-back, tie-less style, but with a studied fervor over the things he's doing as chief marketing officer to remake the public image of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide. It's a combination of intelligence and charm, of the University of Chicago MBA he acquired in 1987 and the creative juices required of a marketing executive.

"Marketing is how you approach business, not just advertising," avers Benito, based at Starwood's headquarters in White Plains, New York. "It's an approach to business from a holistic standpoint." Benito is extending that holistic approach to a fare-thee-well; he is taking Starwood's lineup of hotels (led by Westin and Sheraton), and positioning them no longer as places to get a night's sleep as cheaply and conveniently as possible, but rather as a total experience for the weary traveler.

The plan was prompted by new (in October 2004) CEO Steven J. Heyer, who previously was president of Coca-Cola, replacing Barry Sternlicht. It was a tough act to follow: Sternlicht had assembled Starwood, beginning in 1995, from a nearly bankrupt real estate investment trust, and built it into one of the world's largest hotel companies, with an enterprise value exceeding $14 billion. The conglomerate gained a temporary advantage over its competitors in 1999 with the introduction of Westin's Heavenly Bed luxury furnishings, echoed by Sheraton in 2003 with its Sweet Sleeper offerings. The luxury bed approach kicked off a virtual "bed war," with other chains following suit with their own plush offerings.

"But, when you think of it," notes Benito, laughing, "a bed was the biggest innovation in the industry. And it didn't provide a lasting advantage."

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