The Washington region is undoubtedly the epicenter of the hospitality industry thanks to the efforts of J.W. “Bill” Marriott Jr., who on Tuesday announced his retirement as head of the largest hotel chain in the world.
Marriott International's presence in Bethesda has lured to the area a host of hospitality companies eager to do business with the hotel operator. The executives who lead many of these firms, such as RLJ Lodging Trust and Diamondrock Hospitality, served stints at Marriott and credit its leader with nurturing their careers.
“Some executives want to be the smartest guy in the room, but Bill always wanted to make sure he had the brightest and best minds around him,” said Norman Jenkins, who worked as senior vice president of North American lodging development for Marriott before starting District-based Capstone Development in 2009. “He was never afraid to give up-and-coming executives roles where they could learn, demonstrate their skills and even skin their knees.”
Perhaps that’s why so many Marriott formers hold the company and its leadership in such high regard.
“Bill has provided direction and inspiration for the entire industry. He has mentored many leaders, who will take the industry to the next level in the next 50 years,” said Mark Brugger, chief executive of Diamondrock Hospitality, a hotel real estate investment trust in Bethesda. He served as Marriott’s vice president of project finance at from 2000 to 2004.
“When I started working at Marriott in my 20s, Mr. Marriott knew my name the first week I started and always checked in to see how my career was going, which meant a lot,” Brugger said. “When I came up with the idea for Diamondrock, both Bill and Arne gave their full support.”
Before Christopher Nassetta took the reins at Hilton Worldwide as chief executive, he came up through the ranks at Marriott spin-off Host Hotels & Resorts in Bethesda. He served as president and chief executive of Host, the largest hotel owner in the country, for seven years prior to heading to Hilton in 2007. Once given the chance, Nassetta even relocated Hilton’s headquarters from Beverly Hills to McLean to be near the heart of the hospitality industry.
“I gained a great deal of experience as a result of my time at Host and have an amazing amount of respect for the organization and the people, including Bill Marriott and Arne Sorenson,” he said. “In many ways, Bill has helped define the industry as it exists today and has a very important place in the history of the hotel business.”
Former colleagues and analysts say Marriott has a knack for nurturing talent, giving employees enough leeway to grow and supporting their endeavors even after they’ve left the company. It’s no wonder, they say, that so many former Marriott executives continue to do business with the company once off on their own.
Jenkin’s Capstone, for instance, is a developer on the much-anticipated Marriott Marquis, the District’s largest hotel development under way with 1,175 rooms. Diamondrock, meanwhile, owns 20 Marriott brand hotels and RLJ Lodging, whose chief executive Thomas Baltimore started out at Marriott, has more than 100 of the company’s properties in its portfolio.
Sure, it’s inevitable that these companies will do business with Marriott because it’s the largest hotel operator, but many agree their relationship runs much deeper.
“The lion’s share of the people that have walked [Marriott’s] halls are fiercely loyal to the company, and I consider myself one of them,” Jenkins said. “I learned a lot there, got great opportunities and I’m pleased to say I can call Bill Marriott a coach, a mentor and a friend.”