Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Season for Every Need

I have always attempted to avoid autobiographies because I tend to be under the impression that the author is simply transforming their ego into profit. And first hearing the fact that we were required to read Four Seasons: The Story of a Business Philosophy, an autobiography from Isadore Sharp, the CEO and founder of Four Seasons, for our Hotel Operations Management Program, I instantly assumed it was simply another three-hundred page advertisement for the company.
Four Seasons Qatar
photo by Nick Leonard
However, once the lines of bias and fact have been established, I realized that the whole book revolves around what Sharp states is their secret to success: "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.”

The Golden Rule is certainly not explained in great detail. Instead, Isadore Sharp uses the entire book to explain how and why Four Seasons' guidelines has shaped the business into the success and reverence it has established today.

A huge emphasis is established on how Four Seasons builds their employee base not through one's résumé, but through one's character. From an outsider's perspective, the hotel industry (and business as a whole) appears to be a cold facade of robotic and computerized functions in which a company is perceived as a "well-oiled machine," and that its employees are its "integral cogs." However, while Four Seasons still gives me the impression that the hospitality industry is a sort of mechanical operation, I have come to the revelation that they are not powerhouse hosts, but simple actors. While it may sound like an insult to the business, it simply proves that these top-dollar companies can certainly put on a show of hospitality and service for its clientele and patrons. Its as if each hotel is a studio where the rooms and facilities are the sets and the amenities are the props.

And just like a high-rating television show, these companies need to find their right audience and many of them are successful because they have. Right from the get-go, Isadore Sharp wanted to establish a name that was associated with five-star, medium-sized hotels for business executives and social elites. He attempted to work on large-scale projects like the Four Seasons Sheraton that was meant for conventioneers, but because his partners were trying to attract a different consumer than what he was accustomed to, his project broke apart. Other chains attract the high-class, high-income patron such as Hyatt and Hilton while brands like Holiday Inn are renowned for giving road travelers a place to stay along the highway.

Similar to what Jobel has already iterated, a majority of these companies work primarily with franchising and management where ownership is only a small percentage of their hotel composition. For example, InterContinental Hotels Group only owns 15 hotels globally which sums up to less than 1% of their hotel base. Owners and investors typically sit on a board of directors for a hotel while they seek and hire managers to actually plan and operate it for them.

As it may be, the Four Seasons logo on the book cover further raises my assumption that the book is a marketing ploy, but is it a ploy that actually gives insight into all the nuances, struggles, and strategies of managing a hotel? Absolutely.

1 comment:

  1. Kevin,

    There's a famous line from the musical The Music Man: ‘Ya gotta know the territory’. The man saying it is a traveling salesman and he’s telling his fellow salesman that if you want to be successful you have to know the territory (your customers).

    Such is the case with the hospitality industry. If your client base are traveling families trekking up and down the highways, then they’re probably not interested in a five star luxury spa type of resort. Likewise, a business traveler probably wouldn’t be interested in a Motel 6. [By the way, Motel 6 got it’s name because the rooms cost only $6 per night—and that wasn’t that long ago. Try finding a room at a Motel 6 for less than $40 these days—and it’s still just a bed and a bathroom.]

    Hopefully this autobiography has shown you it’s not always wise to assume anything. And just because it’s an autobiography it doesn’t mean that it won’t be an entertaining read or full of useful information. As long as you go into it understanding that it may be a biased point of view, then you should be okay.

    And with a book like this, who better to get an understanding of Mr. Sharp’s philosophies from than directly from the source?