The blogger recently turned 80. He does not type. He does not own a computer. His name is Bill Marriott, and the other day he donned his reading glasses, rested his elbow on an antique wooden desk only slightly smaller than a dining room table, and began a post:
“I’m just returning from an amazing visit to Asia. . .”
There was a digital tape recorder in front of him, manned by two PR aides probably half the blogger’s age. Mr. Marriott just hit the five-year anniversary of blogging like this: He talks into the machine, reading from personal notes he prepares with pen and paper or from scripts suggested for him by his team of flacks — though in the latter case, he usually edits them heavily.
Blogging is all about voice, and Mr. Marriott’s blog is unusual in the world of blogging, particularly corporate blogging, because it’s actually his voice. Readers can read a typed transcript or press play and actually listen to Marriott’s folksy, devoid-of-business-jargon voice. His blog is like having a hamburger with him: He tells stories about his family, his company, and even his golden retriever Murphy:
For over 60 years, our family’s been spending our summers at a lake house in New Hampshire and we’ve always taken a dog with us. The past few years, we’ve taken our favorite golden retriever named Murphy. Murphy’s eight years old now - he’s getting a little gray in the face.
His DNA, of course, gets him really excited about chasing ducks. He loves to see those green mallards go by.
For Mr. Marriott, the blog helps him remain — to his customers and his employees — the public, folksy face of the company his parents started in 1927 as a root beer stand in the District even though it has now grown, mostly thanks to him, into a global lodging powerhouse with more than 3,700 hotels in 73 countries.
I’d argue the blog is even more important now that Mr. Marriott recently stepped down as chief executive of the Bethesda company, handing day-to-day operations to his protege Arne Sorenson, the first CEO whose name was not on the front door. The trickiness of a transition in what has always been a Marriott-at-the-top company, no matter how well respected Sorenson is, cannot be understated.
Mr. Marriott, now the executive chairman, still comes to work every day. At 80, he won’t be running a marathon, but he looks fit and vigorous, and his legendary attention to detail and his love for drilling down into operational details in meetings remains fully intact. He told me the other day that “I got up in the morning and I knew I was going to a six-hour meeting. I said, ‘This is a gonna be great.’”
I’ve known Mr. Marriott for a while. I traveled with him to Paris five years ago to report a long magazine piece about the story of his life. I was with him earlier this year on the day he told his top executives he was stepping down. I have seen his devotion to his family, his religion and his company -- especially his front-line employees, who still treat his hotel visits like the arrival of a rock star.
I asked him about those employees and the importance of connecting with them around the world on the blog now that he was finally slowing down just a teensy bit. He said, “I want them to know I’m still around.”