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(Yes, even a COVID-19 one)

A few years ago, I remember being told to essentially “lower my expectations” by two people whom I worked with. We were formalizing processes. We were bringing in new people. We were evolving… as legacy companies must do, in order to survive. I set the bar high. “Too high” I was told. I wanted BEST practices. I wanted “A” players. And I didn’t think I was asking for too much. Until the two of them had the gall to chuckle and say, “That’s not suitable for us. That’s “Four Seasons” type of thinking.” My response was, “Yes, and that’s what I aspire to be. Don’t you?” Silence. Then I received my very own question as though it had boomeranged back to me. “Do you?” I assumed it was a rhetorical question and didn’t think it deserved an answer.

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I’ve been a fan of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts for as long as I can remember. Who wouldn’t be? I mostly had the opportunity to experience them as a child on family vacations with my Mom, Dad, brothers and sister. My father grew up with and remains close to Four Seasons founder, Issy Sharpe so, I suppose it was his way of showing support to his friend (and no hardship for the rest of us.)

As I grew up and had a life, budget and family of my own, my stays at the Four Seasons became few and far between. You quickly learn that some of the indulgences you have as a child, don’t necessarily get to carry over with you into adulthood. But if they’re special enough, you try to make some space for them in your life (and wallet) every now and then.

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It could be a milestone anniversary in a different city or country, or—as was the case for my husband and me—a staycation in Toronto, when we brought our son (only child at the time) to the Four Seasons for an indulgent get-away…without really getting away (from our toddler), just to give us some head-space.

It was a special weekend for many reasons, but one was how wonderfully they treated our son. I remember the teddy bear on the bed (which we named Issy), the personalized chocolate chip cookies with his name in blue icing, the colouring books, the small terry cloth robe and tiny slippers for the pool and of course the impeccable and non-intimidating service that didn’t make you feel that you’d broken a rule by bringing along someone not yet in their double digits. I could go on. But the point is, they get it right. Every time. And even if it’s five years between stays, they deliver/exceed your expectations every time.

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That seems like a good company, track record and reputation to emulate. It started from the top. From Issy. His philosophy is simple. It’s the golden rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And he does. As does every person that seems to work there. So I wasn’t surprised when I read in The New York Times that Ty Warner, the owner of the New York Four Seasons decided to transform that location from a luxury hotel into a hospital dorm to keep front line workers during the COVID-19 epidemic well rested and safe.

Heavenly beds that go for thousands of dollars per night have become complimentary safe havens for doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who are helping to fight this now familiar villain. For some, it saved them a two-hour commute back and forth to work. For others, it gave them the security that they weren’t risking the health and well-being of someone at home who may have been immunocompromised.

Within a matter of days, they turned a luxurious hotel into what’s been described practically a military barracks. Dr. Robert Quigley, Senior VP and Medical Director for International SOS oversaw the transformation with a team led by the hotel’s General Manager Rudy Tauscher. They essentially created a new hotel, retrofitted to fight a pandemic, by revisiting and reinventing every process.

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To prevent crowding, they used only 225 of the 338 rooms. The concierge has become a triage – with medical intake – including temperature reading and background questions. There is no interaction between hotel and guest – room access exchange is done via envelopes on a table. Restrictions for vertical transportation – one guest per lift at a time. There is a minimum 7-night stay – with fumigation on check out. And instead of a chocolate on the bedside table at night, there is sanitizer.

Gone are the accoutrements like room service, housekeeping, decorative pillows, minibars. Towels and linens are the new essentials. The new and only luxury is mitigating risk of infection. I predict that will remain a priority for travelers—long after COVID has gone.

Other hotels have followed suit, though not for free, and in my opinion, they will never quite capture what the Four Seasons offers.

Dr. Quickly said the requests coming in are plentiful, as they’ve successfully created a “benchmark” for others to mirror. I’m not surprised. That’s what great leaders and great organizations do. That’s what companies like The Four Seasons do.

So, my answer three years later, to whether I aspire to be like the Four Seasons remains the same, “I most certainly do.” I encourage you to try to find fault with that. I’d share this story with the two colleagues who asked me the question themselves, but that would be difficult. They’re no longer with our company.

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