A builder by trade, Issy Sharp has constructed a remarkable global brand, widely respected for its unwavering commitment to customer satisfaction.
Issy worked summers in construction with his father Max, before graduating in architecture from Ryerson in Toronto in 1952. Still working alongside his father, he began to spread his wings by developing his own projects. The first project – done simply as a financial investment with partners Murray Koffler and Eddy Creed – was the Four Seasons Hotel on Jarvis Street, which opened in 1961.
“I had just finished a small motel, Motel 27 on the Queen Elizabeth Highway, for a friend of mine,” Sharp explains. “I saw that if this project worked on a limited-access highway, it could work right downtown – a motor-hotel that combined the convenience of the city with the informality of a motel.”
There was no vision of the Four Seasons brand as it is today, he explains. “I didn’t intend on getting into the hotel business. I didn’t know anything about the hotel business, so I hired someone (Ian Munro) who did know the hotel business. My approach to that hotel was strictly thinking about it from a customer’s point-of-view. In fact, my lack of knowledge and experience probably allowed me to do and try things that others with more experience would fear to do.”
After a decade of trial and refinement with hotels in Toronto and London England, Sharp took up the hospitality business full-time a decade later. Since then, Four Seasons has grown to become one of the finest luxury hotel chains worldwide, with over 70 hotels in over 30 countries and has many more under development.
Sharp has always dedicated a significant portion of his life to community involvement. He initiated the corporate sponsorship program supporting the Terry Fox Marathon of Hope, and founded the Terry Fox Run program. Since the first Run, which attracted 300,000 participants across Canada and raised $3.5 million, the program has become the largest, single-day fundraising event for cancer research worldwide, raising over $400 million to date. For these achievements, he became the Canadian Cancer Society’s first recipient of the Ruth Hartman Frankel Humanitarian Award in 1983.
A director of the Clairvest Group Inc., he has also served as an honorary director of the Bank of Nova Scotia, member of the Board of Governors of Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, co-chairman of the United Jewish Appeal, director of The Council for Canadian Unity, and governor of the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews.
Within his industry, he has received numerous honours, including Corporate Hotelier of the World (Hotels & Restaurants International Magazine, 1988), Officer de la Confrerie des Amis de L’hotellerier Internationale (International Hotel Association, 1988), and Man of the Year (Foodservice and Hospitality, 1989). He was named Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young’s Ontario Entrepreneur of the Year program in 2003, and inducted into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame a decade ago. He as appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1993, recognizing his outstanding achievements and service to Canada.
He and his wife, Rosalie have three sons. They lost a fourth son to cancer in 1978.