Isadore "Issy" Sharp, born on October 8, 1931 in Toronto, Canada, is the founder of the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and a philanthropist. Sharp is a legendary Canadian business leader and hotelier.
While growing up, Sharp, known familiarly as “Issy,” didn’t have a clear career path in mind. After working a variety of odd jobs during his youth, including setting pins at a bowling alley, Sharp decided to go into the construction industry and started to work alongside his father, who was a plasterer. Sharp graduated with a degree in architecture from Ryerson Institute of Technology in 1952.
Sharp’s first foray into the hotel industry came early in his construction career when a friend asked for his help in building a 14-room motel on the outskirts of Toronto. After seeing the success of the motel, Sharp wondered about combining motel-style conveniences, like driving up to check-in, with typical downtown hotels of the time. As he continued working in construction during the day, Sharp worked on his hotel-motel concept as a side project, eventually securing financing for his first hotel, the Four Seasons, in 1958. That first Four Seasons opened in 1961 with 125 rooms and quickly became a success.
Sharp continued to expand the Four Seasons brand, sticking to mid-size properties in carefully chosen locations. While his hotels can now be found throughout the world, they all maintain the same focus on architecture, landscaping, and, of course, service. The Four Seasons brand came to be synonymous with exceptional service and luxury, but Sharp says the company’s famous service starts with the employees. “One way to characterize Four Seasons service would be to call it an exchange of mutual respect performed with an attitude of kindness.”
Today Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts manages over 100 high-end properties, including the Hotel London at Park Lane, Hotel George V (Paris, France), and Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora. The brand hasn’t always been profitable, though. In 2006, facing economic troubles, Bill Gates and Saudi Arabia’s Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal bought a 95% stake in the company. Sharp remains Chairman and owns 5% of the company. In 2009 his net worth was estimated to be around $540 million.
Besides his career in the hotel industry, Sharp is a philanthropist. He founded the annual Terry Fox Run, which raises millions of dollars for cancer research. He is a major supporter of culture and the arts in Toronto, having donated funds for the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Among Sharp’s many honors, he was named an Officer in the Order of Canada and awarded the 2016 Cornell Icon of the Industry Award.
Interested in learning more about Isadore Sharp and Four Seasons? Check out Sharp’s book detailing the history of the iconic hotel brand, Four Seasons: The Story of a Business Philosophy.
Want to learn more about hotel industry leaders? Check out Titans of the Hotel Industry which includes an overview of leaders like Conrad Hilton (Hilton), Jay Pritzker (Hyatt), J. Willard Marriott (Marriott), Barry Sternlicht (Starwood), Rich Barton and Brian Chesky (Airbnb)