For Wolf Hengst, copresident of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, summer reading is serious business. "On holiday," says Hengst, who oversees the company's worldwide hotel operations, "you reconnect with yourself."
Hengst, who works from the Four Seasons headquarters in Toronto, read the best-selling novel A Gesture Life, by Chang-rae Lee (Riverhead Books, 1999), during his most recent vacation, in Bali. This story about an old man's reflections on his life hardly makes for light reading, but that is Hengst's point. Beach books don't have to be trashy novels to serve their purpose.
Why this book for the beach?
It's a lesson in human moments. You can't get that from a Grisham-type thriller. Good literature allows you to have a much deeper understanding of the human condition. But don't get the wrong idea. I'm not some intellectual. I'm a very average person.
What did you get out of the book?
More awareness of the world around me, which ultimately makes me want to be a better individual and a better leader. With awareness comes a greater understanding of the hearts and minds of the people who work for us.
That's so critical in my business. Giving great service is what we do, so all we've got is our people. The book reinforces the important message that life is about human connections.
Any other connections from the book?
The book is also a good reminder of the power of hope: Don't let what you can't do define what you can do.
A version of this article appeared in the July 2002 issue of Fast Company magazine.