My biggest motivation to build Mukul was not a return on investment,” says Nicaraguan entrepreneur Carlos Pellas, the spiritual and financial force behind the country’s first true luxury beach resort. “It was to create a family legacy that would help pull my country out of poverty.” Mukul, which opened last year on the country’s Emerald Coast—a mecca for surfers and a site of spectacular Pacific sunsets—is the result of what will eventually be Pellas’ $250 million dream, a private beach community that will comprise a 37-key resort (where beach villas and smaller hillside bohios start at $500 a night), a residential development, a lavish spa (or “spas”, as the marketing director refers to each of the six fully tricked-out treatment casitas), a private beach club, a walk-in humidor, a David McLay Kidd golf course and a tasting room for Flor de Caña rum, a brand owned by the Pellas family for five generations and one of the most highly regarded Latin American rums.
Pellas intended Mukul (Mayan for ‘secret’) to be a showplace for Nicaragua’s treasures: Rum, cigars, coffee, grass-fed beef and art. Ninety percent of the furnishings throughout the resort were made by local artists and artisans. Pellas, one of Nicaragua’s wealthiest men, has reason to be a booster for his country. After founding the BAC Credomatic financial network—which serves virtually all of Central America—in 1985, and selling it in 2010 (in what’s regarded as the largest financial transaction in Central American history), he now heads a family business that employs more than 18,000 people in sectors including transportation, computers, sugar, ethanol, rum and the Vivian Pellas Hospital, which together total sales of more than $1.2 billion per year.
As the Stanford-educated president of Grupo Pellas, he oversees a conglomerate with more than $5 billion in assets. But his influence in Nicaragua isn’t limited to his corporate life. He’s president of the board of INCAE, which was founded by Harvard University and ranked by América Economía as the top business school in Latin America. He also serves on the board of the nonprofit American Nicaraguan Foundation, which promotes development in Nicaragua’s poorest communities and helps feed more than 100,000 people a day. In 1991, two years after he and his wife Vivian were severely burned in a small plane crash, the two co-founded the Nicaraguan Burned Children Care Foundation. Since its establishment, the foundation has helped treat more than 1.28 lakh children.
Pellas sees the $130 million he’s invested so far in Mukul—the golf course and the residential development—as being in line with his efforts to improve the lives of Nicaraguans. “We see Mukul and Guacalito, the resort development where Mukul is situated, as a long-term project, built out over 10 to 15 years. We’re in for the long haul.”
In the meantime, he’s proud to have made the local community part of the development since the beginning. The current staff, as well as most of the 1,500 workers who spent three years building the resort, are from the surrounding communities. “When we started, there was practically no real employment in the area. Most people had only informal jobs,” he recalls. So he set up a hotel school in a village nearby. “The training still goes on daily. We support the local schools, built parks and an infirmary, and we offer small loans and training for local businesses.” He also has an airport in the works four miles away, to increase visitor numbers when it opens to private jets and commuter flights from Managua and Liberia, Costa Rica’s capital city, next year. (Right now it’s about a two-hour drive from Managua, though helicopter transfers can be arranged.)
(This story appears in the 11 July, 2014 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)