GM of the Year: Patrizio Cipollini, Four Seasons Hotel Firenze

Portofino, Italy
Portofino, Italy // Photo by Zhanna_Doroshenko/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Patrizio Cipollini
Patrizio Cipollini of The Four Seasons Hotel Firenze was voted the Top General Manager by our readers in the Luxury Travel Advisor Awards of Excellence.

 

"I like this job; I suffer when I don’t come to work.” That’s Patrizio Cipollini, general manager, Four Seasons Hotel Firenze and winner of the Top General Manager award in the Luxury Travel Advisor Awards of Excellence.

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It’s easy to see why our readers voted this hotelier best in class; he lives and breathes hospitality. Indeed, when Luxury Travel Advisor interviewed him for this profile, Cipollini was a bit busy; it was high season in Florence and he was actively greeting VIP arrivals at the hotel nearly every day of the week.

And, oh, what a hotel. Four Seasons Hotel Firenze opened in 2008 after more than seven years of restoration, its 117 rooms crafted lovingly from the 15th-century Palazzo della Gherardesca and the 16th-century Conventino, a former villa that had served as the residence of a noble Florentine family before being converted into a convent in the 18th century.

As our Italy-based correspondent Sharri Whiting de Masi wrote in 2009 after her visit to Four Seasons Hotel Firenze, “Guests enter the hotel through a soaring frescoed courtyard and continue through public spaces, such as the light-filled Atrium Bar, that balance Renaissance sensibilities with contemporary color moods. The hotel is surrounded by 11 manicured acres of historic private gardens, away from the bustle of the city center. The setting is a fantasy.”

An Urban Resort, a Living Museum

A fantasy setting is an appropriate venue for one’s dream job, and that’s just what opening and running the hotel has been for Cipollini, who grew up in a very small village near Lucca. Just prior to opening the Florence hotel and coming back to his roots in central Italy, Cipollini was at the Four Seasons Hotel Milano for more than 10 years.

“It has always been a dream of mine to be the opening general manager for a Four Seasons hotel in Italy,” said Cipollini at the time of the Firenze opening. “But I never imagined I would be coming back to my home region to open a property as historic as Four Seasons Hotel Firenze.” In fact, he called the task the act of “recreating a living museum of art history inside a lively city resort.”

 

The Altana Terrace
The Altana Terrace is Patrizio Cipollini’s favorite part of the hotel. “It’s accessible from the fourth floor of the Gherardesca Palace on the rooftop of our hotel with a breathtaking view of Florence,” he says. Another favorite spot? “I like to hold the hotel’s morning meetings in our 15th-century frescoed chapel,” he says.

Hotels were a part of Cipollini’s world from early on. Inspired by his mother, he attended hotel school from the age of 15. The journey he took from Verona to reach a hotel where he worked as part of his training by the North Sea, 93 miles from Hamburg, is one of his first travel memories. He worked his way through school, toiling in the summers and through vacations. “I had no choice but to work my way up from working at the reception, concierge and guest service for a guest house at Lido di Camaiore in Tuscany,” says Cipollini. “That was compulsory for the school program before I could experience four- and five-star hotels. I also worked as a pot washer. It was an apprenticeship that has stood me in great stead for my latest challenge.”

Cipollini immediately took to a life in the hospitality business, moving from Sardinia to London and from Switzerland to Australia. Through education and experience, he was able to add English, French and German to his Italian language skills.

He spent years with Ciga Hotels in Costa Smeralda, now owned by Starwood Hotels & Resorts; his first contact with Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts was in 1989 when he attended sales and marketing summer courses at Cornell University, where he studied the standards of the luxury hotel company. He even got a glimpse of the Four Seasons in Boston during that period.

Cipollini eventually returned to Italy to work on the opening of the Four Seasons Hotel Milano. The year was 1993; Cipollini’s role was hotel manager but he was also in charge of food-and-beverage operations for the hotel. In 2007, he went to Florence to head the Four Seasons Hotel Firenze’s pre-opening team.

The hotel was a home run from the first day, winning rave reviews from Four Seasons’ aficionados and luxury junkies alike, who praised the physical surroundings, of course, but who also gushed over the high level of service.

The Lobby of Four Seaons Hotel Firenze
The Lobby of Four Seaons Hotel Firenze is considered a living museum by many.

What’s Cipollini’s secret to success in making his guests happy? “Make your staff happy. Stay close to your staff,” he tells Luxury Travel Advisor. “Someone once told me that I have an innate capacity to extend paternal warmth to the entire team. I believe that this attitude sets the tone for the friendly and welcoming service that guests find at the hotel," he says, adding that that style of service, which is also a Four Seasons hallmark, also helps to balance the grandeur that greets guests inside the hotel.

It’s likely Cipollini perfected that innate ability by learning from his mentors, who include Vincenzo Finizzola, the current general manager of the Four Seasons Hotel in Milan, who was Cipollini's boss for 15 years and remains a close friend, as well as Antoine Corinthios, Four Seasons's former president of hotel operation for Europe, Middle East and Africa. “Thanks to him I increased my passion, ambition, humbleness, and respect for others,” says Cipollini. “I have great respect and empathy for the staff at all levels. We all need each other to succeed as a whole. You can have all the decoration in the world, but if the team doesn’t have soul, it means nothing. Every day you have to set an example for your staff.”

When it comes to interacting with those clients, Cipollini's credo doesn’t vary. “Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself; I always keep that in mind when I interact with guests,” he adds. “The magnificence of Florence represents the birthplace of the Renaissance, but I like to say that the city is also like a village, it’s easy to feel at home here; we want that feeling to extend into the hotel as well.”

And who would know that better than this native Tuscan, who is incredibly hands-on. “I do spend much of my time entertaining and getting to know our guests; all of them deserve exactly the same level of attention and dedication," says Cipollini. "A guest has to recognize you; a general manager cannot stay behind the scenes in an office; he should be on the floor meeting with clients.”

Cipollini values his relationships with luxury travel advisors in a similar way. “They are more than important, their collaboration is essential in our daily work; we all have a common goal, which is to make our clients satisfied.” In fact, he travels worldwide to meet as many travel advisors in person as he can.

“We invest a lot to meet them and establish a relationship,” he says.

Remember, this is the man who suffers when he’s not at work so we can only assume Cipollini is in his glory when he says he would never have been able to take a more traditional job, say that of working in a bank.

“Hospitality is different from a bank. A bank is not open 24 hours a day, a hotel is,” he says with a laugh.

And we don’t think he’d have it any other way.

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