Marriott's Youngest Son Makes His Mark
Monday, October 29, 2007
There are moments for many parents when they look at their children and see themselves. It happened to Bill Marriott a few weeks ago during breakfast in Tokyo.
The hotel magnate, now 75 and slower with his steps but not his drive, was in Japan with his youngest son, David, who is 34 and the head of global sales at the Bethesda company that shares their last name. They were meeting the local sales team. David was a few minutes late, so his father got things started.
Bill Marriott is famous for his folksy touch with his front-line employees, but that morning, uncharacteristically, he went around the table very businesslike, pressing the sales crew for details on their deals. The employees were tense. Bill Marriott could feel it. Then in walks David, being Mr. Funny, cracking jokes, asking about their families.
"In a minute and a half, everyone was laughing and feeling good," Bill Marriott said, and it got them all talking. "It was telling to me: It was what I should have done and what I normally do."
It's one thing for a parent to feel joy in spotting a likeness in a child but quite another thing to do so in the context of a $15 billion company when the largest shareholder is one's family. More complications develop when Dad is 75, and what people want to ask but fear doing so is: Who comes after you? Reading the tea leaves becomes something of a sport around the office. It's a fact of life for the Marriotts that will loom larger as David radically reorganizes group and corporate bookings, moving sales reps out of individual hotels and into regional centers. Though it may sound bureaucratic, no one else does it that way. It has the potential to irritate some hotel owners, but it's a move Dad calls "the most transformational event that's happened here in a long time."
With David making one of his first significant public decisions at Marriott International, the questions are inevitable: Is he the real deal? And if he is, will he one day run the company his dad built? The questions follow David in a sort of silhouette. "I would be a complete liar if I would say there is no pressure there," he said, sitting on the couch of his office near a labyrinth of cubicles at the company's headquarters. "As a Marriott, you always live with the feeling that you're being looked at under a microscope."
There are four Marriott children. The oldest, at age 50, is Debbie, who works on government affairs. Stephen, 48, has a rare muscular disorder that has left him hearing-impaired and blind, and he works on culture issues and special events. John, 46, was head of lodging but left the company two years ago to run his family's investments. That leaves David as the only Marriott offspring working on day-to-day operations.
He has run global sales for three years, overseeing a department that takes in roughly 40 percent of the business at Marriott's full-service hotels. His first major initiative -- called SalesForce One -- shifts salespeople out of the company's hotels and into regional sales offices, where they will sell rooms at dozens of Marriott properties, not just the hotel where they were based. The idea is to sell to customers the way they want to be sold to: not by individual sales people calling from every hotel in a region, but one point of contact offering rooms at a variety of properties.
It helps Marriott, which manages hotels, please its deep-pocketed corporate clients, streamlining the booking process. But the company's hotels have individual owners with their own economic interests. Until now, owners could rest assured that salespeople were specifically focused on selling their property.
"A regional sales approach will definitely have greater appeal to the clients who we must ultimately serve and therefore should increase brand preference," said Fred Malek, a former top executive at Marriott who owns several of the company's hotels. "But it also has to be blended with consideration for the profit/loss interest of individual general managers in a diverse ownership group."
David acknowledges that there is uneasiness from some owners, but said: "What we have told them is that fair share in the new world will be different from the old world. The whole system will get a lift from SalesForce One." He has taken a lead role in reassuring hotel owners.
"There's quite high expectations from stakeholders when he walks in the room," said his boss, Amy McPherson, Marriot's executive vice president of sales and marketing.