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Four Seasons: The Story of a Business Philosophy Hardcover – April 30, 2009

4.6 out of 5 stars 56 customer reviews

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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
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Portfolio; 1 edition (April 30, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591842441
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591842446
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #298,762 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm a very big fan of this hotel chain. While I've had the pleasure of only staying ironically in four of their properties; Houston, San Francisco, Buenos Aires and Carmelo, Uruguay, I'm a frequent patron of the Dallas location for their fabulous brunches. I received this as a birthday gift over a year ago and recently finished it. While well-written, it made me look at my new boss in a different light. The same principles of Isadore Sharp's management and staff approach is what my leader has accomplished against heavy industry changes and a work culture mired in turmoil and strife. While in a completely different industry, I find both of them share the same vision of an experience that should be gracious, hospitable and harmonious. It was a perfect Xmas gift for the boss.
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Isadore Sharp was definitely brilliant. You can grasp that from some of his stories. But most of them do not get very deep. The book seems to be written for his associates and employees, rather than as a true business biography. The good thing is that you can actually underline a couple of phrases and paragraphs that years later may come useful when starting your own hotel chain.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Four Seasons is an amazing success story. In an industry that is highly competitive, and very capital intensive, it has managed to differentiate itself and excel for many years.

This book tells the story, from the perspective of the founder, Issy Sharp.

Everyone who has started a business before will know that every big decision feels scary at the moment, even if it turns out successfully later. Sharp relays those emotions well - the huge bets the company had to make, with the ex ante risks clearly expressed.

What was most impressive to me was his unbridled optimism and his willingness to back that up with careful investments during severe downturns. It takes extreme courage, because the result of being wrong would be bankruptcy. His laser focus on customer experience, was also way ahead of its time, something that many other firms have followed successfully (especially with Amazon, another book I'm currently reading - The Everything Store). Listening to the customer, listening to each other - years of wisdom distilled into one beautiful sentence.

I'd strongly recommend this book to anyone looking to enter the hospitality business or anyone in the investing world, wanting to understand this industry.
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