Isadore Sharp learned vital business lessons from his father, a hardworking plasterer. When his dad broke his shoulder while excavating a basement at a work site, he continued to work in great pain to finish the job.
On another assignment, his father misread the plans for the job and negotiated a price that wound up covering only half the building. He finished the other half, essentially for free, without complaint.
From these two incidents, the young Sharp learned to stay the course as problems arose, honor your word and operate ethically. He applied these lessons as founder and chairman of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.
Sharp, 81, opened his first hotel at age 29 in his hometown of Toronto after running his father’s construction firm.
His interest in hotels started when he built a small inn for a friend. Then Sharp booked his wedding night at a local lodge with a great reputation. But it proved disappointing, leading Sharp to conclude, “If a hotel like this was making lots of money, it shouldn’t be hard to build one that would make a lot more.”
Determined to open a successful hotel, Sharp envisioned a 100-room showpiece in downtown Toronto. Even though skeptics insisted the location was bad and his focus on offering expensive rooms during a downturn was misguided, he persevered and attracted enough investors to complete the first Four Seasons Hotel in 1961.
To delight customers, he put himself in their shoes. Growing up in a family of women, he figured female guests would prefer to wash their hair with shampoo, not soap. So he became one of the first hoteliers to provide shampoo in the room, along with higher-quality towels.
“Some managers thought we were spending too much on amenities, and most customers wouldn’t know the difference,” Sharp recalls. “But I wanted to cater to those who would.”
The formula worked. Four Seasons currently manages 90 hotels in 36 countries. Its 2012 revenue was about $3.8 billion.
—Adapted from “Isadore Sharp’s Four Seasons Hotels Soared To Top,” Scott Smith, Investor’s Business Daily.