MBA Journal: My Summer at Four SeasonsStephanie Erb
Although more than a month has passed since the end of the last torturous exam of the first year of the full-time MBA program at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, I remember it as if it were yesterday. As the last few seconds on the clock ticked away, row upon row of restless students twitched in their seats in anticipation, barely daring to believe it was almost over, too excited to flip through and check their work one last time. And then, suddenly, the heavy double doors of the exam center burst open, and joyful students flooded onto the sidewalk, grinning ear to ear. All at once, in perfect sync, the liberated comrades tossed their notebooks into the air, letting out a jubilant cheer. In slow motion, naturally. And set to the lilting climax of an inspirational soft rock anthem.
O.K., maybe in hindsight the memory is a little blurred with a season finale of Saved By the Bell: The College Years or some other delightfully clichéd “school’s out for summer” scene, but that’s how I like to remember it. In reality it may have been a tad more subdued, a little less impeccably timed, but the momentousness of the occasion was no less dramatic. With that glorious final tick of the clock, all thoughts of pencils, books, and teachers’ dirty looks melted away, and as far as we were concerned, summer had officially begun.
For many of us—myself included—the holiday was short and sweet. We had the weekend to celebrate, catch up on several months’ worth of sleep, and trade in our rumpled hoodies and jeans for crisp shirts and tailored trousers. And with that welcome transformation complete, we set off to test our mettle in the working world, to apply our skills to real-world business problems beyond the pages of the HBS case collection. The summer internship, a rite of passage for generations of MBA students, is for many of us the first true litmus test of whether the sacrifices we’d made and months of hard work we’d endured were leading us in the direction we’d hoped.
POSH SERVICE, LAVISH ACCOLADES
I, for one, could not be more delighted about my summer experience thus far, and I feel extremely fortunate to have been granted such an exciting career opportunity. I’ll be spending my summer at one of the world’s premier iconic luxury brands—Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts—blazing a trail as their first social media marketing intern. Although I’m not exactly in their target market, I was quite familiar with the company long before applying for the position. I was well aware, for example, that Four Seasons is synonymous with luxury and unparalleled service (and is the best outpost for celebrity-spotting during the Toronto International Film Festival), but my interest in the company from a business standpoint was piqued when we read a chapter devoted to Four Seasons in Rotman Dean Roger Martin’s book, The Opposable Mind, for our introductory strategy class. I hadn’t realized, for instance, that Four Seasons and its visionary founder, Isadore Sharp, pioneered many of the amenities that are now standard in pretty much every hotel—such as a fitness center and complimentary toiletries—nor that it was founded right here in my hometown of Toronto.
Most impressive, however, was Four Seasons’ approach to its employees, its envied workplace culture, and the “Golden Rule” philosophy it staunchly upholds. I must admit I was skeptical at first. After all, I’ve heard of numerous companies that wax poetic about their caring cultures—and are even recognized for them in the press—but don’t really “walk the walk,” so to speak. Well, I’m now nearly four weeks into my internship, and I can assure you that all Four Seasons’ accolades are very well deserved; in fact, the difference is evident from the moment you walk through the office doors. We interns were told on our orientation day that Four Seasons is a company where the right attitude rivals, if not eclipses, the ideal skill set; after all, if you’re known as a company that truly values its people, the best and brightest will flock to you anyway. Let me tell you, I’ve never seen more smiling faces per capita in an office building. And why wouldn’t they be smiling? Case in point: On my second week of work, I was invited to join in a company excursion to Ontario’s wine region for a day of wine tours, cheese tastings, and team bonding. The occasion? To thank the employees for their years of loyal service (or, in my case, days of loyal service) as part of the company’s 50th anniversary celebrations. Needless to say, I wasn’t at all surprised to meet numerous colleagues who have been with the company for decades.
Aside from being a unique and remarkably pleasant place to work, it is also an exciting place to bolster my newly acquired theoretical toolkit with hands-on marketing experience. First of all, it’s one of the few companies whose global corporate headquarters—not just Canadian headquarters, like most other multinationals—are situated in Toronto. As a result, our department has the ever-fascinating task of planning and implementing worldwide brand-level marketing strategies that maintain a clear and consistent image, yet simultaneously take into account and cater to the distinct needs of our diverse set of more than 80 properties spanning the globe, from Amman to Bora Bora, to New York City. On top of that, Four Seasons has been exceptionally proactive in embracing and leveraging the incredible power of social media to engender more meaningful relationships between brands and consumers and is not afraid to be an innovator in this fast-paced and dynamic sphere.
Regardless of where I land after graduating next year, I have no doubt my experience with social media marketing will be an invaluable asset, especially as so many companies are still approaching it in an apprehensive and somewhat haphazard way, despite its proven importance. I have already learned so much in such a short time, I can only imagine the wealth of new knowledge I’ll accumulate over the next few months. On a more macro level, however, I think one of the key insights I’ll take away from this experience is an insider’s perspective of what it truly means for a company to be a great place to work and what it takes to achieve the delicate interplay between highly productive workplace and vibrant cohesive community. Company outings to wine country help, for sure, but there’s a lot more to it than that. It’s something every MBA analyzes to death in Leadership or Organizational Behavior 101; to see it in practice, however, is something quite extraordinary.
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