The first hotel Isadore “Issy” Sharp built in 1961 was at the corner of Carlton and Jarvis in Toronto, a rather unappealing destination at that time for visitors and travellers. In Issy’s words, it was “a hangout for gangsters, hookers and street people.”

But according to Issy, you can create a destination if it fits the users’ needs.

From humble beginnings, the Four Seasons today is one of the world’s most admired and successful hotel chains.

So how did someone with no real training in the hotel industry create the largest luxury hotel management company in the world?

This past week, as part of Entrepreneurship 101’s Lived It Lecture series, MaRS CEO Ilse Treurnicht sat down with Issy to find out just that.

Competitive advantage built on the golden rule

“Quality of service has always been our competitive advantage,” Issy told the packed room. “It’s the 101 of business: if you can’t attract a customer, you don’t have a business.” He went on to describe how all of his hotels were built from the customer perspective.

And it all goes back to the golden rule:

“The simple idea that if you treat people well, the way you would like to be treated, they will do the same.”

Issy knew that to accomplish his goal of exceptional customer service, this golden rule had to be adopted by everyone who worked in his hotels, no small feat for a company that operates in 30 countries around the world.

Today, only 12 companies have sat on Fortune’s list of 100 best places to work every year since its inception. And with Issy’s deep commitment to service, it’s no surprise that the Four Seasons is one of those 12 companies.

Missed the lecture?

Read what the Huffington Post had to say about Issy’s Lived It Lecture at MaRS. And check out the video excerpts below to find out what Issy sees as the highlight of his career, why he thinks if you’re always right, you’re wrong, and how the Four Seasons’ competitive advantage evolved from a belief system.

The spark of an idea

Creating value for the customer and developing a business model

The golden rule

Going global and tips for the entrepreneur

Next week: Introduction to Entrepreneurial Management

Join us next week as Nathan Monk, a senior strategist with the MaRS Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector, discusses how starting a new business is not the same as running an operating business. The session will introduce and define key concepts in entrepreneurial management practices and explore how startups can use these at any step of their development.

Entrepreneurship 101 course resources

And search “Entrepreneurship 101” on iTunes U.

Lisa Zarzeczny

Lisa Zarzeczny is the Manager, Entrepreneurship and Innovation Series at MaRS, where she oversees a suite of high-quality education programs to support the needs of entrepreneurs in Ontario and across Canada. See more…