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5 Lessons You Can Learn from Tom Wolfe

When Tom Wolfe arrived at San Francisco’s famed Fairmont Hotel in 1973, there was no such thing as a concierge in America. Having trained in Europe alongside world-class concierges in London and Paris, he instated a level of premier service our nation’s hospitality industry had not yet experienced...or even understood. In order to garner interest from guests, Wolfe left glossy black cards with gold keys emblazoned on them in the rooms explaining the services he was able to offer as concierge. Decades later, Wolfe has seen it all – and has assisted clients ranging from everyday business travelers to celebrities like Marlene Dietrich and Tony Bennett.

Here are five key lessons you can learn from the life and career of San Francisco Local Legend Tom Wolfe.

Passion takes patience.

Wolfe didn’t always know for sure that he would wind up in the hotel industry. As a young man right out of high school, he worked a brief stint on Wall Street, where he says he learned “how to dress and how to talk and how to behave.” While attending American University in Washington, D.C., Wolfe spent some time employed as an “office boy” in Sen. Robert Kennedy’s office. “I lived right next door to the Senate building, so I got 

Learn a new language – or several.

Aside from being fluent in French and Spanish, Wolfe is proficient in Japanese and knows “a smattering” of Chinese and Italian. Picking up languages comes pretty naturally to him, he says. “I've always maintained that you could drop me out of an airplane anywhere in the world, and if you gave me a week, I'd be able to take you around and show you that place in the language of that country.” It’s a skill that comes in handy, as he regularly works with guests from all around the globe.

Be ready to go the extra mile for your customers.

Tickets to a sold-out show? A reservation at the hottest restaurant in town? A celebrity’s request to have their M&Ms separated by color? Those are simple, says the man who prides himself on going above and beyond for his clients. Even the most unusual request he ever received barely made him bat an eye: A hotel guest once asked for a rare Ferrari GTO – a red one. Wolfe made a few calls and delivered it...for the price of $6 million. Mission accomplished.

Find a hobby you can enjoy when the work day is over.

The self-proclaimed car buff loves “old things” (which made the above Ferrari GTO request a lot easier for him to navigate). Wolfe’s pride and joy is a 1980 MGB Roadster, which he had to convince his wife would be “more fun” than a station wagon.  “The first time we took the car out,” he reminisces, “we barely got a couple of blocks before people came swarming over. That would not have happened in a station wagon.” His collection also includes a classic 1965 BMW motorcycle and a black 1980 Raleigh bicycle, “just like the bobbies in London used to ride.”

True love transcends geographic and language barriers.

Aside from introducing the concept of the concierge to American hotels, Wolfe also pioneered the industry in Japan. During the 1980s, he spent five years at Tokyo’s luxurious Hotel New Otani as the country’s first concierge and Director of International Guest relations. It was at a fashion event at the hotel where he first spotted the woman he would marry, Takeko, who was there as a manager for a men’s clothing line. “I was just knocked out,” he remembers. Despite the language barrier and weeks spent trying to get her on the phone, she finally agreed to a first date. “From that day forward, we've never been apart,” he says. Meeting the love of your life? Just one more job perk for a man who lives to make people happy.

Hear how Tom Wolfe became America’s first concierge. Download the Local Legends podcast on iTunes and Google Play.


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