Cateys 2017: International Outstanding Achievement Award, Isadore Sharp

06 July 2017 by
Cateys 2017: International Outstanding Achievement Award, Isadore Sharp

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Surprisingly, Isadore Sharp didn't start his working life in hospitality. Having gained a degree in architecture he worked for his father's construction business, and, after building a motel for a friend and noting its success, he decided to construct his own.

The first Four Seasons hotel opened in 1960 in Toronto, funded after Sharp doggedly pursued investors for five years to support his project. Sharp told Fortune magazine last year that he just considered the project a real estate deal, "a motel that I'd open and probably sell".

But it became a great success, causing Sharp to consider that being a hotelier might just be a career. Having constructed a second hotel, this time a 200-bedroom resort on the outskirts of Toronto, Sharp visited Europe.

Here, he had the novel idea of ‘averaging costs' by staying in a city's worst hotel one night, followed by the best the next. In London he stayed at the Dorchester, where he was "blown away" by the experience.

This led Sharp to consider building hotels overseas, and having met a representative from Robert McAlpine, who had built the Dorchester, he was soon targeting London.

The Inn on the Park London (now the Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane) opened in 1970, and it was voted best hotel in Europe the following year.

The London hotel set the tone for the future direction of the company and pioneered many of the signature Four Seasons services now delivered worldwide. Within a few years, the company's portfolio included 10 hotels across Canada and its first US management contracts.

Isadore Sharp Issy and who, at the age of 85, is still a hands-on chairman whose philosophy remains the business' guiding principle. He says the reason for the success of Four Seasons 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."

His approach to both his people and Four Seasons' customers has led to the business being among Fortune magazine's 100 Best Companies to Work For every year since the list was introduced in 1988.

And Sharp has sought to secure the long-term future of the brand by taking the company private, having floated it on the stock market in 1986. In 2007, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia paid $3.8b (£2.9b) for 95% of the company, with Sharp retaining a 5% stake. It was a deal designed to ensure that the Four Seasons brand stands for the highest levels of service for many years to come.

According to John Stauss, regional vice-president and general manager of the Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane, Sharp has been an inspirational leader: "Issy's ongoing commitment to the Golden Rule has been the cornerstone of the company culture at all levels and in all ways," he said. "Today, with 105 hotels in 43 countries, our longest-serving hotel in the world and our newest hotel in the world are both here in the UK, and the UK hospitality industry continues to be home to many at Four Seasons, both past and present, and will be well into the future.

"I know Mr Sharp greatly appreciates the prestigious Catey Award, and in his usual humble style, gladly shares the recognition with all at Four Seasons, both past and present."

The judges
The senior team of The Caterer, with nominations from the Cateys judging panels

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