Head Hotelier in the Making: The Early Years of Isadore “Issy” Sharp

He was just 29 years old when he launched what has become the internationally successful Four Seasons luxury hotel chain. Today, Isadore “Issy” Sharp is recognized as one of Canada’s most successful businessmen, having been inducted into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame and made an Officer of the Order of Canada. Consistently ranked among the best hotels in the world, the Four Seasons earns annual revenues in excess of $200 million. That is no small achievement for a man who knew little stability as a boy, moving 15 times in his first 16 years.

Isadore “Issy” Sharp was born on October 8, 1931. His father, Max, was a Polish Jew who emigrated from Poland to Palestine in 1920, and finally to Toronto five years later. He worked as a plasterer until his family began to grow with the arrival of Issy and three daughters. Using his knowledge of home renovation, Max began purchasing houses throughout the 1930s and 1940s, repairing and renovating them, and selling them at a higher price; this was what forced the young Sharp to move so frequently in his youth.

In his early years, Sharp admits he was less than interested in academics. “My life in high school revolved around sports,” he recalls. “Partying became my priority.” That all changed when Sharp was accepted into the architecture program at Toronto’s Ryerson Polytechnical Institute. Sharp began to earn high marks for his work, and also stood out as a top athlete. In the summers, Sharp gained experience in the construction business by working for his father. After graduation, Sharp went to work for his father’s company full-time, building small apartment buildings and houses.

It wasn’t only Sharp’s father that would serve as an important family connection in the young architect’s life. One of Sharp’s sisters had married Eddie Creed, the owner of a large fashion emporium in Toronto. Creed’s best friend, Murray Koffler, would later go on to found Shoppers Drug Mart. The three budding entrepreneurs became fast friends and decided to form a partnership that would last for decades.

“Eddie and Murray had always told me that if I ever had a real estate venture, they would like to invest in it,” Sharp says. After five years of working for his father, Sharp decided it was time to branch out on his own. It was in the 1950s when he began to seriously ponder the idea of building a hotel. “A hotel seemed to me to be a more interesting structure to build because it would be a more active kind of building than either a factory or a house,” Sharp says.

He decided to try and make a go of his dream, but first he needed to find the money. After spending years “knocking on a lot of doors” trying to convince banks and venture capitalists that his business could be a success – to little avail – Sharp finally decided to take his brother-in-law and Koffler up on their offer from years before. He was going to go into business and he wanted their help.

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