The news on Friday that Isadore Sharp is retiring as the CEO of Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts and that Kathleen Taylor will assume the CEO position deserves resounding thumbs up. Of the hundreds of interviews I’ve conducted with hotel executives during the past 15 years, interviews with Sharp and Taylor easily rank in my Top 10.
The first reason it’s good news is that Sharp isn’t going anywhere. The 78-year-old founder of the iconic luxury brand will remain as chairman after he hands the CEO title to Kathleen Taylor on 1 August. A press release from Four Seasons said Sharp will remain as chairman and continue to be involved in the company, retaining oversight and direction of the design and aesthetics of new and existing hotels in the manner that he has always done. He also will continue to represent the company as its goodwill ambassador, building and advancing relationships with partners, employees and customers around the world, according to the release. Bravo!
My only one-on-one interview with Sharp came during the summer of 2007 as I was involved in the launch of a magazine called Luxury Hotelier. The open, frank and thought-provoking conversation revealed much about the man who possesses an air of confidence that oozes sophistication. As a devout practitioner of a health-and-fitness lifestyle, Sharp is still going strong. His recent appearance and on-stage interview by Jon Tisch at the New York University International Hospitality Investment Conference was proof that the man has plenty more to give to an industry that has been so good to him. An architect by trade, Sharp entered the hotel business in 1961 and hasn’t looked back since.
Taylor, a long-time Four Seasons executive and one of the most down-to-earth people in the luxury hotel business, is assuming the role as CEO. She joined the company more than 20 years ago and has served as president and COO for the past several years. She’s already among the most influential women in an industry that severely lacks females in its CEO circles.
The first interview I conducted with Taylor was just days before the 9/11 attacks in September 2001. The common denominators between her and Sharp are easy to spot: confidence, sensibility and humility. Taylor, a self-described small-town girl from Oshawa, Ontario, will hold a coveted job in the hotel industry come August.
The 52-year-old Taylor, who goes by “Katie” in many industry circles, doesn’t necessarily have big shoes to fill. She knows the company, its goals and its four pillars of business (quality, service, culture and brand) like the back of her hand—much like the game of tennis that she loves to play.
“Over a decade ago, I recognized that Katie had the potential to become Four Seasons' next CEO. Since then, we have worked closely together on many strategic, operational, and challenging situations and she has repeatedly proven herself the right choice to lead the company forward,” Sharp said in the press release.
Therefore, no one should expect drastic changes at Four Seasons. It will continue to try to recover from a bumpy ride caused by the Great Recession, and it will focus on further expanding its portfolio of 82 properties under management agreements. China is a main target for expansion.
Taylor most likely doesn’t want a big deal made of the fact that a woman is leading one of the most respected luxury hotel chains in the world. It’s a major accomplishment for anyone to reach that level, but for a woman to accomplish that feat in what is a predominantly a man’s club is refreshing and long overdue.