How I Made It: Mehdi Eftekari
The gig: As general manager of the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, Mehdi Eftekari is in charge of one of the region’s elite hotels. The Four Seasons on Doheny Drive serves business and leisure travelers with money to spend but is best known as a magnet for show-biz people working in movies, television and music. The hotel also is home to about half of all movie industry press junkets, where reporters fly in from all over the country to interview the stars of a new release and enjoy a day or two of luxury.
Care and feeding of celebs: “Talent goes to places they can trust you, where they can be themselves and it won’t go anywhere,” Eftekari said. “Discretion is a must.” Hotel staff are taught to protect celebrities from intrusions and not ask for autographs, photos or otherwise fuss over the famous, he said. “We train our people to be friendly, not familiar.”
Background: Eftekari was born in Iran and came to the U.S. in 1975 at 19 to attend college and follow in his father’s footsteps as an engineer. At the University of Kentucky he soon discovered that he disliked engineering and shifted to studying business management and marketing.
Facing hurdles: The Iranian revolution of 1979 and subsequent diplomatic crisis -- when militants seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and 53 Americans were held hostage for more than a year -- splintered relations between Tehran and Washington. Those events also created personal challenges for Eftekari and other Iranians in the United States. He had trouble finding a management job when he got out of school in 1980.
“Interviews would go great, but by the time I got to the end of the process there would be a letter of rejection,” Eftekari said. “It wasn’t easy to be of Persian descent.”
Making lemonade: One job interviewer at a tech company made the perhaps indelicate observation to Eftekari that he thought Iranians had a talent for hospitality and making customers happy. The assertion made sense to the young grad, though, who saw other Iranians prospering in the hospitality field and decided to jump in.
“The culture of Iran is very hospitable, very friendly,” said Eftekari, who became an American citizen in the 1990s. “You learn it as a kid spending time with
friends and family. It’s all about enjoying life.”
The journey: Eftekari had worked as a waiter during college and finally got hired as an assistant manager in the restaurant of the Hyatt Regency Louisville. Eight years later, after a series of promotions, he left Hyatt as regional food and beverage director for Southern California to head food and beverage services at the new Four Seasons on the edge of Beverly Hills. It was 1988 and the hotel was only a few months old. He was promoted to hotel manager at the Four Seasons Hotel Newport Beach in 1992 and rose to general manager in 1996. In 2004 he came back to the Four Seasons Los Angeles as its general manager.
On leadership: Being manager of a 285-room hotel that runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is like being mayor of a city, Eftekari said. Hundreds of employees require direction, and an ever-changing cast of visitors arrives with new wants and needs. “Every day is different,” he said.
Catering to cultivated tastes: The secret is to manage guests’ expectations -- and then deliver more than they are expecting, Eftekari said.
“You have to know what you have and what you can give and not over-promise,” he said. Then, if you can surpass the promises you do make, “it makes you feel good that you accomplished a goal.”
Personal: Exercise helps Eftekari keep his head clear, he said. He lives in Beverly Hills near the hotel and starts workouts at 5:30 a.m. at a local gym. “Those are the two hours I take for myself.” He also enjoys ocean kayaking, a sport he picked up working in Newport Beach.
Fringe benefits: The Four Seasons fancies itself as Hollywood’s living room, and famous guests have treated it that way by sitting down at the piano in the lounge. Among the unpaid performers have been Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, Josh Groban, Billy Joel, Rod Stewart and Jamie Foxx, shortly before he received an Oscar for portraying Ray Charles.
The owners upstairs: The Los Angeles Four Seasons is the only one in the global chain, as far as Eftekari knows, where the owners live on the premises. Four Seasons manages the hotel for its owners, the Cohen family. Brothers Robert and Joseph Cohen and their wives, Beverly and Susan, have apartments on the top floor and spend a lot of time in the hotel’s public spaces. “The guests love to see them and interact with them,” Eftekari said.