Isadore Sharp, credited with creating luxury branded hotels though his iconic Four Seasons Hotels Ltd., announced Friday he was stepping down as chief executive of the chain he founded 50 years ago.
Mr. Sharp, 78, is handing over the reins to Kathleen Taylor, 52, who has served as president and chief operating officer of the company since 2007.
Ms. Taylor says she was picked by Mr. Sharp to be in line for the chief executive job when she became co-president of the company 10 years ago.
While Friday's announced succession wasn't a surprise to the industry, it marks an important milestone for Four Seasons as it tries to recover from a brutal industry downturn.
"Issy was an icon inside and outside the company," Ms. Taylor said in an interview Friday. "I'm not going to be able to ever replace him. My job is to stay on a trajectory of success and stay current and stay true to our values that are a big part of what he taught."
Mr. Sharp opened the first Four Seasons hotel in 1961 as a motor inn in a rundown section of Toronto. Out of that he developed 82 hotels under a brand known for impeccable service at the top end of the market. An additional 40 hotels are under development. As has become common in the industry, the company does not own its hotels but rather designs and manages them for third parties.
"Everybody in my position and similar positions looked at Issy as the dean," said Simon Cooper the president and chief operating officer of Ritz Carlton, a Four Seasons competitor that has fewer hotels but more rooms. "He has exquisite tastes and you can see that in everything Four Seasons does."
Mr. Turner said that Ritz and Four Seasons together control around 25% of luxury hotel rooms. He credited Mr. Sharp with being the first in the luxury industry to design each hotel under the brand in a unique style, rather than build to a certain prototype.
The issue of succession has long been a concern for Mr. Sharp, Ms. Taylor said, because he has remained so closely associated with the company, particularly among its employees. Ms. Taylor joined the company 21 years ago as its corporate council and took over as president of business operations in 1999.
She said that three years ago she became the only employee who reports to Mr. Sharp, while everyone else reports to her. At that time, she said, she set about mastering the hotel operations side of the business that she had been less familiar with in preparation for her eventual reign as chief executive.
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