Bill Marriott has revolutionized the hotel business over the past four decades.
As CEO of the company that bears his family’s name, Marriott led the industry in opening hotels next door to highway exits and suburban office parks. He was also a pioneer in catering to niche markets. In 1983, he launched Courtyard, a chain for cost-conscious business travelers. Today, Marriott has 18 brands, including Fairfield Inn for budget travelers and Ritz-Carlton for the luxury set.
But perhaps Marriott’s biggest innovation was his decision to transform the company into one that manages – but does not own – its properties. That left the company a steady stream of revenue but little exposure to fluctuating real estate values and vacancy rates.
Marriott turns 80 on March 25 and plans to step down as CEO at the end of the month. But this is no ordinary retirement.
He’ll remain chairman of Marriott’s board of directors and will have considerable power over the company through his 10 percent equity stake, which is worth $1.2 billion.
Marriott will spend more time on vacation, yet he plans to work 45 to 50 hours a week when home in Maryland, where the company is based.
“My wife said she married me for better or worse, but not for lunch,” he says.
Marriott International traces its roots to 1927, when John Willard Marriott and Alice Sheets Marriott opened a nine-stool root beer stand in Washington, D.C. It grew into a popular restaurant chain called Hot Shoppes. Over time, the company expanded. It got into airline catering, the cruise ship business and took over the Big Boy and Roy Rogers restaurant chains.
In 1957, the couple opened their first hotel – the Twin Bridges Motor Hotel in Arlington, Va. But it was their son Bill who transformed the company into a global hotel giant. Today there are 3,718 Marriott hotels in 73 countries. The company’s other businesses have been sold.
Marriott visits more than 250 of the company’s hotels annually, inspecting rooms, kitchens and banquet halls. He also takes note of how employees interact: do managers need to look at employee nametags to tell who they are?
There is often evidence during these visits of last-minute touch-ups to impress the boss. That is why Marriott always carries some paint remover.
“They know I’m coming,” he says. “They paint everything they can get their hands on.”
Marriott sat down in his office and discussed the hotel business. Below are excerpts, edited for length and clarity.