The hotel company he founded turned 60 years old earlier this year.
The man himself turned a cool 90 on October 8th.
I certainly hope Isadore Sharpe got a dance in.
When I heard about his big birthday – mainly from Instagram, where various Four Seasons properties chimed in to send him wishes, from Amman to Palm Beach – my thoughts immediately turned to the waltz the Canadian icon is known for. Annual. In December. A rite. (When there is no pandemic). When the holiday party Four Seasons, here in the city, starts famously in the same way: Isadore takes the hand of his wife, Rosalie, as the space remains.
They spin. The jiver. Often to the old Irving Berlin tune, “Let’s Face The Music and Dance.”
Do do in the city where Sharp first hatched an empire six decades ago — one that now stretches from Buenos Aires to Bora Bora — the carpet-cut nods to the resilience of the times in many different ways. First, he and Rosalie – both children of Polish immigrants – have been spinning ever since he asked her to dance at a friend’s wedding. It was 1953. He was wearing blue suede shoes.
Second: it all speaks today of the way Sharp embodies the purposeful courtesy for which the four seasons are now universally known.
“Lisbon, Riyadh, Athens…”
It was Sharp, a few years back after I had been summoned to his home, for something I was working on, and diligently checking out the cities he had just come from visiting on a whistle-stop trip. Ever person (the word could have been invented for him), and when speaking of “a undertaker’s soft, low-key style,” as it was once described of him, the only hint of a style that was less tense was a glimpse of the jazzy , multicolored socks he was wearing.
His house, in northern Toronto — a sleek, scattered uni-level structure reminiscent of a Donald Wexler design — had previously waved a large circular driveway (very “dynasty”), complete with Brancusi sculpture in the center. Inside: the necessary art, including works by Lawren Harris, plus floor-to-ceiling fittings on two opposing walls of hundreds of pieces of 18th-century English and French porcelain, considered the largest private collection in the world. (The wonderful Rosalie, an artist in her own right, is the collector!)
The sitting area where we lay upstairs faced an IMAX-sized window with unobstructed views of the rolling greens of Rosedale Golf Club.
“It was Ramadan when I was in Egypt,” Sharp shared, elaborating on his travels. “I broke up quickly with the people at the hotel.”
On the go: ready. As for his exact role with the company since resigning as CEO in 2010, and while retaining 5 percent ownership following a joint acquisition several years before that of Microsoft CEO Bill Gates and Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia ( Gates recently increased his Share), Sharp explained it this way: “I’m speaking from another pulpit now. The CEO must be at the center; I’m its ambassador. ”
Even now at the age of 90, I like to think of him as the world’s oldest “influencer”.
The stories thickened the air. When he remembered what it was like to open his first hotel in Russia in the nineties, he wondered: “It is in the Red Square that you must understand. I went to Red Square after it opened and looked around. There is the Kremlin and there is our hotel. I thought to myself: How did this happen to me?? ”
How is a story that has been told many times most vivid in Sharp’s 2010 autobiography, “Four Seasons: The Story of a Business Philosophy.” At the age of 21, armed with a degree in architecture, he joined the construction business with his father, Max Sharp, who had started as a plasterer. The Eureka moment appeared sometime later when Isadore was working on a motel project for a client and noticed its potential and decided to make his own. The first hotel, in 1961, stood tall, in a decidedly filthy part of the city center, in Jarvis Street rooms at a price of $ 10- $ 12 / night, and a name borrowed from the English translation of a German hotel, as a friend had visited.
“My original name for it was Thunderbird,” confirmed a sheep Sharp.
What he lacked in know-how, he made up for in perspective. As the business expanded, there are many things that are now of rigueur in luxury hotels was brainstormed by Sharp: monogrammed bathrobes, mini-bars in suites … even shampoo in the bathrooms!
Service has long been the name of the game. The “golden rule” that the man often preaches – a philosophy also applied to the way the company operates, which may explain why Four Seasons has been named one of the “top 100 companies to work for” by Fortune every year ago the list began.
Does the founder have a favorite hotel?
Not surprisingly, the question called for a shrug, though our conversation eventually fell to the memories of the truly stunning Four Seasons in Florence, housed in an ancient palace and disposable convent, flanked by the city’s largest private park, once owned by Pope Leo XI .
His wife, Rosalie, he suggests, might name a property in Thailand: “Chiang Mai. I remember when we were going through the rice fields (on the property) and there was a buffalo sitting there. And she commented that it was special. ”
As I kept talking about family, I asked: have any of his children been hit by the hotel bug? It turns out that while two of his three sons worked for the company in a spell, it was a fourth son, Christopher, who tragically died of melanoma in 1978, who “had shown the greatest interest …” Sharp, who is now both a grandfather and a great-grandfather who were pushed away.
The loss of that son, just as his company was soaring, is clearly a life-defining moment. “I pray for him every morning, even if you have to prepare a shield,” he said. He then described how that pain was eventually translated into the founding of Terry Fox Run, his early support that galvanized the wider business world to pony up. The race has now raised millions for cancer and grown to include approximately 9,000 such races around the world.
For now, however, he remains focused on the future. More hotels. More trips to make.
His passion for business? It’s clear what keeps him relatively virile-plus, a match with tennis games and a recently adopted appreciation for bridge. He and his wife play about once a week, whether they’re in Toronto or in Palm Springs, where they share their time.
“It’s a clearing of the mind where you are ultra-focused on the task,” he explained.
Like dancing! Happy birthday, Mr. Sharp.