Before buying their first, small motel on Fort Lauderdale Beach in 1986, Bob and Ramola Motwani quizzed local real estate pros and motel owners. They were told the annual spring break boom made for a can’t-miss market. “You just work for a few months — you can almost close and go on vacation,” Ramola recalls being told. “Everyone just raved about it.”

Vacationing most of the year wasn’t part of the business-minded Motwanis’ DNA. Still, they bought the modest, if grandly named, 49-room Merrimac Beach Resort Hotel and moved into it with their two young sons, Nitin and Dev. Until then, their only hotel experience had been as guests. “We had confidence in hard work,” Ramola says.

The Motwanis came from India. Bob — his given name was Ramesh — came from a family in the electronics business. He earned an economics degree from what’s now the University of Mumbai. Ramola’s family was in timber…

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