BETHESDA, Maryland—Bob McCarthy wanted to make some extra money as he made his way through Villanova University, so he took a job as a waiter at Phineas Prime Rib in suburban Philadelphia. The restaurant was part of what today is Marriott International, where McCarthy spent the next 38 years of his work life, rising through a variety of marketing and operations jobs before becoming COO in 2011.
“I started there almost by accident and never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be here 38 years later,” said McCarthy, who is retiring from Marriott at the end of February.
McCarthy is the kind of Marriott leader Executive Chairman and former CEO J.W. “Bill” Marriott Jr. likes to cite as an example of the endless opportunities for upward mobility offered by the company and the hotel industry.
“Bob’s shown us the great opportunities in this business,” Marriott said. “And while we were willing to bet on him and move him along, he earned every bit of it. At the same time we have an atmosphere of opportunity. We try very hard to give people a chance, and when we give them a chance and they do well we move them up the line.”
McCarthy recently spoke with Hotel News Now about his career in the hotel business at Marriott as well as his plans for the future:
Hotel News Now: What professional lessons have you learned from Bill Marriott?
Bob McCarthy: “Attention to detail. He is a doggedly determined leader who is never satisfied. He’s always driving the organization to be better and to develop new products and services and not at all stand on our laurels. It’s refreshing to see the bar set so high for a man who has been in the industry for so long. His philosophy is to never quite rest easy, that we’ve done enough, that we can’t always do better.”
HNN: How much more difficult is it to adhere to that philosophy today than it was 38 years ago?
McCarthy: “The big difference today is the complexity of the business and the number of units and brands. When I joined the company, we had 36 hotels and one brand. Today we have 18 brands and almost 3,900 hotels. It’s a much more complex business with more stakeholders, a lot more financial considerations, a lot more guest-facing and consumer issues. The simplicity of what we knew that long ago has left us, and it is a tougher business in terms of being able to prioritize and coordinate all those issues.”
HNN: What does the new generation of leaders, such as CEO Arne Sorenson, bring to the company?
McCarthy: “Arne brings new ideas, a lot of energy. He’s very bright and a solid leader. He’s focused the organization more on the next generation of consumers and travelers than we’ve done in the past—whether it’s technology, or changing food and beverage tastes, the design of rooms across brands, or fitness centers, or our social media strategies. He’s very focused on how we get this organization ready to serve the next generation of travelers, many of whom are already on our doorstep.
“We’re very well-received by the boomers, and very well-thought-of. We need to be equally well-received by Gen X and Gen Y as they begin to travel, bringing a bigger percentage of travelers into the marketplace.”
HNN: What lessons have you passed along to the new group of leaders?
McCarthy: “They would say I’ve been candid and willing to confront issues and deal with resolutions. I’ve always tried to take our value system at Marriott, which has to do with concern for the individual and with mentoring people and creating opportunities for people to grow, and how do you take those values and synergize them with the technology, the capital, the product and service changes we’re leaving for the millennials. People want to be respected and have a place where they have opportunities and feel they have a fair shake to grow and develop and hit their goals or aspire to bigger places. We do all of that at Marriott.”
HNN: What are your post-Marriott plans?
McCarthy: “Besides making investments in some hotels and serving on some boards, I’m working on an opportunity that I’m going to be spending significant personal and financial commitment on. The idea is many of the resort destinations in the United States are under-performing in leisure business. The big opportunity is for family and sports entertainment, a family entertainment venue coming into the leisure space. We can do a lot more to make these resorts more attractive to the leisure customers and tie into many more activities and sports and athletic events than what you see today in resorts. I’m actively working in a partnership to launch a new business in that space.”