President, worldwide business operations
Xchange asks Canada’s leading businesswomen to share their most meaningful business lessons. Each issue brings you the advice that has helped shape the lives and companies of these winning businesswomen.
Kathleen Taylor is president, worldwide business operations, for Toronto-based Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. She joined the luxury hotel operator, which owns 64 properties in 28 countries, in 1989, and was appointed president in 1999. A former lawyer, Taylor is oversees the business side of Four Season’s operations, including directing its worldwide hotel and residential product design, construction and development activities, managing its acquisition and corporate planning efforts, and overseeing its corporate HR, administration and legal affairs groups. In 2001 she was honored by York University with the Schulich Award for Outstanding Executive Leadership.
BEST ADVICE: “Focus on relationships.”
As Taylor sees it, the Golden Rule “Treat others as you’d want to be treated” isn’t just a lesson learned in kindergarten; it’s an important business strategy. “To me, running a business is a little bit like running your life,” she says. “It’s the same value system that you use in responding to things or actions in your ordinary life that brings the best environment into work.”
This focus on building mutiually beneficial relationships was ingrained by her parents, reinforced by participating in team sports as Taylor grew up, and supported, she says, by the corporate culture at Four Seasons.
“What that means for leadership is leading by example and never acting on the power position,” she says. “At the end of the day, if you’re the boss, you can tell anybody you want what to do, and they’ll probably do it.” But to get employees committed and prepared to go the extra yard for company, leaders need to act in a manner that staff believe in and can identify with.
But keeping grounded and connected with employees’ issues day in and day out is not easy. “There’s nothing in your day-to-day job that really brings you back to thinking, ‘Gee, I wonder what that lady down the hall is feeling right now’, or ‘I wonder how that dust-up we had with that business partner emotionally affected the young person who was handling that file or that account.’ Still, it’s something you have to make room for, insists Taylor. ‘You have to say, ‘Alright, I’m going to take some time to think about this and talk to people about how they’re thinking and feeling.'”
In the end, it doesn’t take much to stop by a person’s office to ask about his or her family, or to recognize a job well done with words of thanks or even a movie pass.
“It’s about coaching, mentoring, about encouraging people,” she says. “It’s not just a ‘nice-to-have’; we think there’s a big connection between the relationship with employees and the company’s cutting-edge service model. Our obligation as managers to the employees is to make sure that we’re developing an environment where people treat each other that way.”
Â© 2005 Susanne Ruder