Can Marriott adopt Starwood’s culture of cool?
Can Marriott adopt Starwood’s culture of cool?
13 OCTOBER 2016 7:20 AM

Long story short, I doubt it. 

I’m lucky; I’ve never been fired or laid off from a job in my life. I’ve never had to fire anyone myself either, but I have had to lay people off, and that’s a really difficult professional experience to go through, especially when it involves people who love their jobs and believe in the company’s values.

This is what’s happening at Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, now a wholly subsidiary of Marriott International. We’ve all heard the rumors and facts—X number of Starwood people already got their pink slips, X number of people are getting nice severance packages, X number will be high and dry without jobs now/in six months/in two years, and so on and so forth.

We’ve heard from Marriott President and CEO Arne Sorenson himself that the company is “moving as quickly as (we) can to post new jobs, to fill those new jobs so that … we put that anxiety behind us as quickly as we can so we can be entirely forward-looking.”

So this isn’t a surprise.

But it doesn’t make it any less tough for the people affected. Yes, many around the industry are in agreement that an acquisition like this is good for the industry, and good for Marriott. Many say it’s a taste of the merger and acquisition activity yet to come. But the harsh reality is that all business has upsides and downsides—and one downside is that a lot of people stand to lose their jobs in this deal.

I am not one of them.

Maybe you, reading this column, are.

I won’t pretend to understand what that’s like, knowing that your job that you love and have worked really hard at is going away through no fault of your own. You’ve likely built a life around your job and don’t really want to move to go after a similar corporate hotel job. I wouldn’t blame you if you were pretty bitter over the thought of changing careers at this point to keep your life and family where you’ve built them. All these things are even tougher when you actually like your job and believe in the company you worked for.

And that right there is the difficult part of having to leave a company that has made culture one of its bedrocks.

Starwood did it for its employees and for its guests and properties—they created a true “culture of cool.” This was a company synonymous in many ways with innovation, cool brands, fun parties—in essence, good culture.

Leaving a corporate culture you enjoy and respond well to can be professionally demoralizing. I think it illustrates one of Marriott’s top challenges with this acquisition: Being able to distill that ephemeral essence of a “culture of cool” that permeated Starwood and its brands, and absorb it into Marriott without losing it.

I’m not sure it can happen successfully; I’m really not. In fact, I doubt it. Nothing against Marriott, of course, but it’s going to be a challenge—it’s a challenge Sorenson himself acknowledges.

Will hotel owners or investors notice any difference if that Starwood spark goes out? As long as the properties and brands are cash-flowing, they won’t. And they probably won’t care.

But the people who will notice a difference when that Starwood culture of cool is gone are the guests (and I could go on and on about the rabid loyalty of Starwood Preferred Guest members), and the corporate employees.

This is why I think it’s crucial for Marriott to pay attention to keeping that Starwood spark alive as it builds out the new company. Spend time figuring out what it’s all about to guests, employees, everyone, and make a conscious effort to nurture it. It’ll pay off, I guarantee it.

Care to share any thoughts from the front lines on this, Starwood employees? Maybe you’ve been through it and have some insight. Let me know in the comments below, or you can email me at or find me on Twitter @HNN_Steph

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