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Hotel heir Forte rebuilds family empire

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Rocco Forte was heir to a hospitality dynasty that included some 800 hotels and 1,000 restaurants, but when Forte Plc fell victim to a hostile takeover a decade ago, the British hotelier was left with nothing except the family name.

Born in the English seaside resort of Bournemouth in 1945, Forte is the only son of Charles Forte -- now Lord Forte -- an entrepreneur who transformed a single milk bar into one of the largest travel and catering companies in Europe.

Forte's involvement in the family business began at the age of 15, working in the wine cellar and as a waiter in one of his father's hotels.

He rose within the ranks of the company, becoming CEO in 1982 and then adding chairman to his title when his father stepped down a decade later.

In 1994, Britain's queen knighted him for services to tourism and he became "Sir Rocco."

But Forte's tenure as company chief was thwarted in the mid-1990s, when UK media group Granada launched a hostile takeover bid.

The bid led to a protracted and very public takeover battle, pitting Rocco Forte against the more media-friendly Granada chief executive Gerry Robinson.

Forte was portrayed as patrician, stuffy and old-fashioned, according to Jonathan Guthrie, enterprise editor of the "Financial Times."

"Gerry Robinson endlessly repeated the story that Sir Rocco had been going grouse shooting on the day that the takeover bid was launched," Guthrie told CNN.

In August 1995, Forte's defense of the company failed as shareholders finally accepted an increased offer from Granada and the media company took control of the firm.

"I think it affected him very deeply," Guthrie said.

"The comparison he always gives is being mugged, being set on by people in the street. He was deeply wounded by it."

At 51, Forte was a CEO without a company. The reluctant sale of his shares in the family business had earned him millions of dollars.

Rather than enjoying a luxurious early retirement, he decided to use it towards start-up capital for a new company specializing in luxurious hotels.

The result is Rocco Forte Hotels, a new company that started with one hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1997 and now has 12.

Forte is also known for his sporting ability. In 2001, 2002 and 2003, he represented Britain in his age group at the World Triathlon Championships. He has also run several marathons.

Forte is aiming to have 20 hotels in the company. He turns 62 in January and, much like his father, who worked until he was 80, Forte has no plans to retire at an early age.

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At 51, Rocco Forte was a CEO without a company. A decade later he has a new, growing empire.

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