REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Last month’s news of J.W. “Bill” Marriott Jr. stepping down as CEO of Marriott International took many in the hotel industry by surprise.
During his tenure, Marriott saw his company grow to 3,700 properties in 72 countries, and though Marriott is making it clear he has no immediate plans of retiring from the company, several Marriott-branded property owners and operators shared with HotelNewsNow.com their thoughts on Marriott’s departure as the CEO, as well as the impact he’s had on the hotel industry.
In a 19 December blog post Marriott explained his reasons for making the move this year: “I think timing is everything in life. Next year, I will celebrate four personal milestones: I’ll turn 80 years of age in March. I'll have worked at Marriott for 60 years in June. I’ll have been CEO for almost 40 years and celebrate that anniversary in November. And I will have known Arne Sorenson for 20 years. These are nice round zero dates,” he wrote.
Marriott added that it also is a time of great strength for the company. “We’re totally focused on lodging and developing the best hotel brands in the world,” he wrote.
Arne Sorenson, current president and COO of Marriott International, will take over as CEO, but Marriott will remain on board as the company’s executive chairman. The changes are effective 31 March.
Owners and operators react
The owners and operators interviewed for this report said they have no concerns about the executives’ transitions affecting operations and performance at their Marriott-branded properties.
Deno Yiankes, president and CEO of the investments and development division of Merrillville, Indiana-based White Lodging Services, with a portfolio of 157 hotels in 19 states, said that the top five individuals within Marriott’s senior management team have nearly 100 years of combined experience and service with Marriott, which speaks to the stability and depth in leadership that very few, if any, of their competitors can match.
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“We anticipated this day would come, and Mr. Marriott has made a great choice in turning over the reins of day-to-day operations to Arne Sorenson. We have had the privilege of working with Arne, and we know that Mr. Marriott has turned things over to very capable hands,” said Len Wolman, chairman of the hospitality and gaming industry’s Waterford, Connecticut-based Waterford Group.
Michael DeNicola, CIO and executive VP of Irving, Texas-based real-estate investment trust FelCor Lodging Trust, which owns interests in 78 hotels and resorts throughout the United States, said while Bill Marriott’s legacy is most obviously the company that bears his family name, he’s also played a significant role in developing influential business leaders.
“(I am) also hopeful that he will continue his leadership role in the industry especially with his efforts with regards to governmental support for travel and tourism, which is a major contributor to our economy and jobs throughout the USA,” DeNicola wrote in an email.
James T. Merkel, president and CEO of Columbus, Ohio-based hospitality investment firm RockBridge Capital, said Bill Marriott has left an indelible mark on the hotel industry.
“His influence has shaped the very way in which the industry operates. Among his many accomplishments, I believe creating the upscale select-service brand segment to be one of his most influential,” Merkel said.
Thom Geshay, senior VP of business development at Davidson Hotels and Resorts, an independent hotel management company with headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee, said Marriott is an industry icon whose work has directly or indirectly impacted nearly every aspect of the hotel industry. Davidson Hotels and Resorts portfolio encompasses 49 upscale full-service independent hotels with nearly 13,900 rooms across the United States.
“He has earned the right to step down, and I think he’s done his father proud with the way he’s directed the company for the past 40 years. At 79, he’s also earned the right to relax, travel and be a guest for a change at some of Marriott’s fine hotels and resorts,” he said.
Marriott emphasized in his blog post that although he will no longer have the role of CEO, he is not retiring: “I’m going to be executive chairman, and, as I said in numerous media interviews, Arne will be driving the bus, but I’ll still be onboard.”
The Marriott-branded property owners and operators expect Bill Marriott still will have a major influence on Marriott International and on the hotel industry, as a whole.
“It’s hard to imagine anyone past, present or the future ever having such a meaningful impact on the lodging industry as Bill Marriott. His leadership and unwavering commitment to service (take care of the associates so they, in turn, will take care of the guest) is unparalleled,” Yiankes said.