Lofty ambition counters humble beginnings

Marilyn McHugh

Marilyn McHugh

Marilyn McHugh



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Serendipity? Hard work? Right place, right time? How do successful entrepreneurs and hoteliers make it to the pinnacle of their careers? The path is not always predictable or traditional, but there seems to be one common thread: desire.

Ian Schrager, co-founder of the famed Studio 54 in the late 1970s, hipster hotelier in the 1990s and now chairman and CEO of his eponymous business, was a lawyer from Brooklyn just before becoming an icon on Manhattan’s late-night scene. He started his career as a bus boy at the Concorde Hotel in New York, and just this month was presented the 2014 IHIF Lifetime Achievement Award at the 17th International Hotel Investment Forum in Berlin.

Isadore Sharp, founder of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, gained experience in the construction business by working for his father, a Polish Jewish immigrant, and later graduated with a diploma in architectural technology. When Sharp built a small motel for a friend on the Queen Elizabeth Highway on the outskirts of Toronto called the Motel 27, it marked the beginning of one of the most luxurious lodging brands in the world.

Early in his career, after his ideas were shot down and he was nearly bankrupt, a young Sharp decided he never would work for another company again. He vowed to run his business with his own philosophy: put customers first, which made Four Seasons the success it is today. Sharp boils down his company’s success and culture to the Golden Rule: “treat others as you wish to be treated.” There was no “grand dream,” he claims, just one consistent thread that drove his brand forward, “and that’s service.”

Schrager once said his secret weapon was curiosity, soaking up knowledge like a sponge. He’s considered himself fortunate to have grown up in Brooklyn, having credited his upbringing for his “drive to succeed” and pursuit of “upward mobility.”

Successful hoteliers like Ian Schrager gained confidence from their successes, strength from their failures and wisdom from their personal experiences. These visionaries also share the quest to evolve and innovate, remain competitive, develop relationships and attend industry events that inspire and fuel their forward-thinking nature. Or, perhaps, provide the backdrop to strike their next deal. Without action, however, life can very easily become filled with other things.

I encourage you to get out and attend events, particularly the IHIF Summit series, which offers opportunities to hear from and meet accomplished entrepreneurs from around the world at every level of their careers. I guarantee you will leave feeling energized, with a desire to tackle your next challenge. For more information, visit

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