In the process of building the 3,600-hotel empire, Marriott’s family became one of the richest and best-known in the region. The family and the firm donate millions every year to philanthropic efforts, particularly for people with disabilities.
The company employs 15,000 people locally, but its influence stretches beyond its hotels and its Bethesda headquarters. Many in the industry say Marriott was critical to seeding the region’s strength in hospitality. A host of former Marriott executives have run some of the largest hotel companies, including Hilton Worldwide, RLJ Lodging Trust, Choice Hotels and Host Hotels & Resorts — all of which are based in the area.
Throughout the growth of his family’s company and the industry, there was Mr. Marriott, as his devoutly loyal employees call him, espousing his family’s simple maxim that if you take care of your employees, your employees will take care of your customers, and your customers will come back.
That philosophy still permeates the company — which is now worth nearly $10 billion and employs 129,000 people — after countless nights of putting heads in beds. Arne Sorenson, a trusted Marriott lieutenant for more than a decade, will become chief executive in March, the first non-Marriott to run the company. J.W. Marriott, known as Bill, will become executive chairman.
“Bill Marriott is more than the grandfather of our industry,” said Fred Malek, the company’s former hotels president and co-founder of an Annapolis hotel investment company. “He’s been the pacesetter we’ve all wanted to measure up to. Nobody will ever replace Bill Marriott as the maestro of this industry.”
Before Christopher Nassetta took the reins at Hilton as chief executive, he came up through the ranks at Marriott spinoff Host Hotels & Resorts in Bethesda. He served as president and chief executive of Host.
“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.”
But it’s a protege inside Marriott who is taking over at the top. Sorenson emerged as the likeliest successor after the chief executive’s second-oldest son, John, left the company in 2005 to run the family’s investments.
“It’s time to do this, and I’m happy to be turning over the company to Arne,” Bill Marriott said in an interview. “The family has great trust and confidence in him.”