Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Four Seasons: The Story Of A Business Philosophy By Isadore Sharp

Four Seasons: The Story of a Business Philosophy

Four Seasons: The Story of a Business Philosophy
By Isadore Sharp

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Product Description

The founder of Four Seasons Hotels shares the philosophy and values that have made his legendary brand

How did a child of immigrants, starting with no background in the hotel business, create the world's most admired and successful hotel chain? And how has Four Seasons grown dramatically, over nearly a half century, without losing its focus on exceptional quality and unparalleled service?

Isadore Sharp answers these questions in his engaging memoir, which doubles as a powerful guide for leaders in any field. He recalls the surprising history of his company, starting with its roots in his father's small construction business, which Sharp joined after getting a degree in architecture. Shifting into hotels wasn't easy, and he learned by trial and error.

His breakthrough was a vision for a new kind of hotel, featuring superior design, top-quality amenities, and, above all, a deep commitment to service. Sharp realized that customers would gladly pay extra for a "home away from home" experience. But that would be possible only if everyone-from managers and supervisors to bellmen, servers, and housekeepers-was fully engaged. The front-line staff, who have the most contact with guests, can make or break a five-star reputation.

Readers will be fascinated to learn how Four Seasons does it, year after year, in more than thirty countries around the world.

Product Details
  • Amazon Sales Rank: #54011 in Books
  • Published on: 2009-04-30
  • Original language: English
  • Number of items: 1
  • Dimensions: 1.08" h x 6.36" w x 9.24" l, 1.40 pounds
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • 320 pages
Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly
Sharp shares the story of his astonishing rise out of the Toronto ghettos to founder, chairman and CEO of the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, the largest group of five-star hotels in the world. Born to Polish-Jewish immigrants, Sharp began his career building apartment buildings and entered the hotel-building business in 1961. With his wife, Rosalie, the interior designer for the hotels, he decided to differentiate his brand by focusing on midsize and luxury hotels where employees are expected to deliver the best service. As the business grew, Sharp shifted his attention to charitable pursuits, including founding the Terry Fox marathon to benefit cancer research. While his story is impressive and inspiring—the company was named one of Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work for in America, and weathered 9/11 and the SARS outbreak with aplomb—it is bogged down with pedestrian details of the deals and process of opening many of the empire's 150 hotels in 40 countries. While rabid fans of the hotels and of a good rags-to-riches story may cheer, other readers might be left unsatisfied. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist
This memoir by the founder of the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts is the story of his life and work. The son of immigrants, Sharp grew up working for his father in construction, an experience that allowed him to absorb many business insights and values. In 1961, he built his first Four Seasons hotel with a four-pillar business model of quality, service, culture, and brand. With absolute commitment to developing and rewarding excellent employees, the author quotes an old Japanese proverb, "If they work for you, you work for them." In 2006, the Four Seasons was privatized for $3.83 billion, with Sharp continuing to hold 5 percent as chairman and CEO. By the end of 2008, Four Seasons had 85 hotels in 36 countries and plans to double that number in 10 years. A compelling story of an entrepreneur and his success that also serves as important advertising for the company. --Mary Whaley


"There's something different about a Four Seasons hotel. It's like gravity doesn't have the same effect there—the weight of the world lifts from your shoulders as soon as you walk in the door. I've often wondered how they do it. Now I know. It's an inspiring story."
—Morgan Freeman

"I have a great deal of respect for Issy Sharp and Four Seasons. I stay at their hotels all the time. This book is a terrific read by one of the smartest men in any business."
—Larry King

"Full disclosure: I am a rock-solid Four Seasons apostle. And now I know exactly why: perhaps to a more successful degree than any other mogul, Isadore Sharp has animated and applied the Golden Rule as business principle. This book will no doubt become a mandatory manual for hospitality professionals everywhere; but leaders of any business that has employees and competitors would be seriously remiss to miss out on Sharp's lovingly written memoir chronicling how he built the world's most innovative and beloved collection of luxury hotels. How uplifting it is to see how a philosophy built on so much common sense so directly leads to such uncommon success!"
—Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group and author of Setting the Table

"Regardless of your business, regardless of your pricepoint, Four Seasons offers invaluable lessons for us all."
—Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence

"Four Seasons truly sets the gold standard for excellence. He is an amazing guy!"
—Donald Trump

"The gripping yet breezily-told story of the man who transformed the hotel business, hospitality, and, in many ways, business itself."
—Don Tapscott, bestselling author of Grown Up Digital and Wikinomics

"This isn't just another 'rags to riches' story but a story about a leader who embodies three essential qualities of exemplary leadership---trust, integrity and optimism--- how he leveraged those values to create quality at the Four Seasons, and how just about every business that cares about excellence can do the same."
—Warren Bennis, Distinguished Professor of Business, University of Southern California and author of Judgment and Transparency

"Brilliant, incisive and honest. A story of engagement, imagination, ambition and charm. Four Seasons defines luxury and comfort."
—Michael Silverstein, author of Trading Up and Treasure Hunt

"An entertaining and educational peek inside the wonderful world Issy Sharp has created at Four Seasons. It is a must read for anyone who aspires to excellence and meaning in their life."
—Roger Martin, Dean, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto

"No one—in our generation—has established a global brand name so totally identified with unquestioned quality as Issy Sharp."
—Peter Munk, Founder & Chairman, Barrick Gold Corporation

"Issy Sharp is one of Canada's great business success stories – success that's been achieved on a global scale and recognized throughout the world. He's the living example of what a business leader can and should be."
—Rick Waugh, President & CEO, Scotiabank

"With humility, humour, intelligence, innovation and ambition, Issy Sharp dared to take on the biggest by being the best. Today, his legacy is clearly not just a global chain of fine hotels with an impeccable brand, but a pioneering approach to business that always puts people first."
—Gordon M. Nixon, President & CEO, RBC

"For my money, Isadore Sharp is one of the smartest entrepreneurs Canada's produced."
—Seymour Schulich, author of Get Smarter

"A consummate hotelier, Isadore Sharp is in the pantheon of entrepreneurs who reinvented innkeeping, with Cesar Ritz, Conrad Hilton and Kemmons Wilson. Four Seasons: The Story of a Business Philosophy reveals how Sharp re-conceived the hotel as a discreet oasis of small- scale serenity and assiduous service to guests."
—David Olive, author of No Guts, No Glory

"Any time I'm travelling, I'm always proud to point out that Four Seasons, one of the premier hotel chains in the world, was founded & developed by Canadian Issy Sharp. It's a great credit to Canada."
—Jim Pattison, Chairman & CEO, The Jim Pattison Group

"Four Seasons hotels are a reflection of Issy Sharp; they are a multinational model of first-class service. A brilliant example of true success, this is the story of a great business leader and his iconic company – as well as a chronicle of perseverance and self-confidence in adversity."
—Dr. Sherry Cooper, Executive Vice-President, BMO Financial Group

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful.
5Unsurpassed luxury for all seasons...always with a personal touch
By Robert Morris

Prior to reading Isadore Sharp's memoir, I checked out the biographical information about Four Seasons' founder, chairman, and CEO at the corporate Web site. Here is a portion of it that provides an excellent introduction to his book. As Sharp explains, "The reason for our success is no secret. It comes down to one single principle that transcends time and geography, religion and culture. It's the Golden Rule - the simple idea that if you treat people well, the way you would like to be treated, they will do the same. There was no vision, there was no grand dream," since the first Four Seasons - a modest motor hotel - opened in downtown Toronto. "But there has always been a consistent thread and it propels us forward today, as we continue to grow globally, and that's service." It may seem obvious that in the hotel business, service is a primary objective, but it is how that service is delivered that sets Four Seasons apart. "One way to characterize Four Seasons service would be to call it an exchange of mutual respect performed with an attitude of kindness." Defining and enforcing the company culture was one of four key strategic decisions made in the formative years of Four Seasons history. "I sat down with our communications experts and wrote down the fundamentals of our culture, which is based on the Golden Rule - to treat others as you wish to be treated...A lot of companies talk about having a culture, but we knew we had to walk the talk if we expected it to thrive in our hotels."

The company that was launched in 1961 with a 125-room motor hotel in Toronto now has arguably the most profitable as well as the highest rated luxury hotels in the world, more than 140 in more than 40 countries. Sharp's leadership deserves much of the credit. What I most appreciate about this book is the fact that, to the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that he has discussed so comprehensively and so specifically the process by which the Four Seasons organization has evolved over the past 46 years. There are so many highlights to cover and no one else is better qualified to do so. Here is a representative selection:

1. In 1963, Four Seasons opened its second hotel, Toronto's Inn on the Park. the sophisticated urban resort-style hotel was an instant success.

2. As indicated, throughout its history thus far, Four Seasons made four strategic decisions that formed the pillars of its business platform. The first was about quality. Small, central and well-appointed, with friendly, personalized 24-hour service, the first London hotel was just what people were seeking in the new age of international jet travel at the dawn of the 1970s. Rather than being all things to all people, Four Seasons would focus on one thing: being the best in each location, with medium-sized hotels of exceptional quality.

3. The second key strategic decision that formed the business platform was about service. True luxury is defined not by architecture or d├ęcor, but by service. So Four Seasons must make the quality of our service our distinguishing feature and a competitive advantage. In 1976, Four Seasons entered the US market with its first management contract, for San Francisco's 1913 landmark hotel, The Clift.

4. Then in 1979, the first Four Seasons-branded US hotel opened on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. It was service that made the hotel special - so much so that the new Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC, was featured in the introduction to Tom Peters' In Search of Excellence. The 1980s unveiled flagship hotels in a dozen other US cities, including Philadelphia, Boston, Dallas, Los Angeles and Chicago. Four Seasons as a distinct brand name was coming into its own. Divesting less-strategic properties, the company began to transform itself from a hotel owner-operator into a management company. It also started to manage hotels in mixed-use developments - a new concept at the time - allowing it to extend its expertise into high-quality residential environments.

5. The third of the four strategic decisions that formed the business platform was about culture. Four Seasons had always had an implicit operating philosophy. As the company expanded, Sharp decided to make it explicit. He knew that shared values were essential to the service culture he wanted to create. Therefore, he and his team developed a formal credo, founded on the Golden Rule. This became the cornerstone of Four Seasons culture.

6. The final strategic decision that formed the pillars of the company's business platform was about the brand itself: to grow as a management company and build a brand name synonymous with quality. It began to transform itself from a hotel owner into a management company. This intensified focus freed Four Seasons to concentrate on its greatest strength: serving the luxury traveler.

7. As its fifth decade began, Four Seasons continued to grow - in both size and recognition - around the world. The company now welcomed guests to 50 properties, on every continent except Antarctica. More than ever, Four Seasons Private Residences, Residence Clubs and other branded residential offerings were integrated with urban and resort Four Seasons locations. The strength of the brand remains the same at every location, during each interaction with a guest: a promise of a quality of life.

These are but a few of the highlights throughout a process of Four Seasons' development under Isadore Sharp's leadership as founder, chairman, and CEO. However, as he would be the first to point out, all that has been accomplished thus far is the result of a team effort and he generously (and properly) acknowledges the significant contributions of dozens of his associates throughout the last four decades, including members of his family who shared his dream and also helped to make it a reality: unsurpassed luxury for all seasons.

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful.
4Four Seasons: The Story of a Business Philosophy
By BlogOnBooks
Talk about a class act. Growing up in a modest family whose patriarch was in the construction business would not necessarily portend what was to become of Isadore Sharp and the Four Seasons Hotel empire he created. From his first hotel, a run of the mill, 125 room motor hotel (motel) in Toronto in 1961, to building and managing an operation that includes 83 of the some of the world's most impressive properties across 35 countries, Sharp has instilled a philosophy that puts service and luxury above all else for the sophisticated world traveller.

As this book describes, his personal story and philosophy is in seemless continuity with his product. Sharp describes his early days converting from a business of building mid-level apartment buildings in the Toronto area, to one day pursuing a small motel opportunity that would change his life. His first Four Seasons motor hotel (the name came from a luxury German brand, the Vier Jahrzeiten). He built a second Toronto hotel, the Inn on the Park with more luxury in mind (even a gym!) when he suddenly found himself meeting with executives at super-conglomerate ITT Corporation about building their flagship hotel, the Four Season Sheraton in downtown Toronto.

It was after his `quality' philosophy (and nearing bankruptcy on another deal) got shut down by the Sheraton rulers that a still young Sharp decided he would never work for another company again. He vowed to run his business with his own philosophy; a philosophy that puts customers first and has made the Four Seasons what it is today.

Sharp goes on to describe the many deals that he made around the world to bring the Four Seasons brand to every continent (save Antarctica) and how every deal and many innovations are what drive the brand to this day. His story of class, philanthropy (a must read chapter is the one about the Terry Fox charity run) and an overriding dedication to service are what makes the man and the company what they are today. The fact that he was finally able to take his company private again through an equity partnership with Bill Gates and Saudi Arabia's Prince Alwaleed are testament to the type of organization Sharp has built. In short, few would argue with the statement that the name Four Seasons equals `world class.'

WIth fascinating details, a full appreciation of the many who have helped him fulfill the dream, Isadore Sharp comes across as a class act in a world of less than perfect business leaders. (The book even has a magnificent array of full color pictures on the inside of the jacket!)

Highly recommended. A wonderful read.

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful.
5A New Philosophy
By C. Williams
When I first joined Four Seasons a little under 2 years ago... I thought everyone around me had "drunk the kool-aid". I had never worked in an environmen quite like this. Everyone around you was interesting in not only offering an amazing product but also invested in making you and the team succeed. And generally everyone was happy at work... from housekeeping to executive staff.

After reading this book... I now see how this corporate culture has reached all 83 hotels and all corporate offices. This memoir is inspiring and shows to be successful you don't have to be cut throat and bottom line oriented but you can also try living by the Golden Rule.

I totally recommend this book to anyone interested in the company or industry, interested in different types of business philosophy, and definitely anyone interested in working for this company.


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