"It is impossible to please all the world and one's father." -- La Fontaine, 1668.
In a family-dominated company, the founding generation often dreads handing over day-to-day control to their children. Henry Ford never gave full authority to his son Edsel. And when J. Willard Marriott decided to step down as president of the family dynasty that began with a five-cent root beer stand on 14th Street, he looked for someone else before taking the risk of giving the job to his 32-year-old son, Bill.
Dick Marriott, Bill's younger brother, calls it "one of the hardest decisions" his father ever made. Now 50, Bill Marriott remembers being "scare to death" about his first major decision as president in 1964 -- spending all of $30,000 to acquire land for a flight kitchen near Logan Airport in Boston. "It was the biggest deal I had ever made," he says.
Today Bill Marriott has become the most successful home-grown businessman in Washington history, and only decisions worth more than $1 million cross his leather-topped English antique desk. The small business built around the legendary Hot Shoppes restaurant chain his father entrusted to him 18 years ago is now 30 times larger -- a $2.6 billion conglomerate growing at 20 percent a year. Malcolm S. Forbes Jr., who succeeded his own father as president of Forbes magazine, hails Bill Marriott as "one of the few people who shows that nepotism can work."
Although in Washing ton the name Marriott still evokes memories of uniformed carhops serving up Teen Twists and orange freezes, the dizzying growth of the company has resulted in dismantling the Hot Shoppes chain and replacing it with:
* 110 Hotels offering 45,000 rooms -- Marriott now rivals Hyatt as the favorite resting spot for well-heeled corporate travelers.
* Flight kitchens that provide meals aloft for more than 100 airlines from Cairo to Caracas.
* A beefed-up fast-food empire of 395 Roy Rogers restaurants that is expected to grow to more than 535 by late next year. The company also owns 198 Bob's Big Boy coffee shops and franchises nearly 1,000 other Big Boys.
Bill Marriott, the small- boned and soft-spoken architect of this empire, still projects a boyish air, though his carefully parted light-brown hair is beginning to gray around the temples. His vocabulary still has the flavor of a 1950s fraternity house. Marriott called the company's recent acquisition of the Host chain of airport restaurants and gift shops so obvious that it was "a no-brainer."
But contradictions lurk beneath Marriott's affable exterior. He is the dutiful son, who, after taking over the company, pushed relatives and longtime friends of his father into early retirement. He is a compulsive worker who spends half his life traveling, but always schedules time for his family and devotes 15 to 20 hours a week to the Mormon church. His own holdings of Marriott stock are worth about $50 million, yet he eats lunch in the company cafeteria, routinely flies coach, buys suits off the rack at Joseph A. Bank and tithes the expected 10 percent to his church.
Seemingly reserved in most aspects of his life, he loves fast boats. He raced speedboats at the family compound on New Hampshire's Lake Winnipesaukee as a teen-ager, served in the Navy, selected nautical art for his office walls and prompted the company to buy the Sun Line's cruise ships. Although Marriott has not been on a cruise since 1975, two months ago he indulged his enthusiasm for fast boats.
An uncharacteristic passion crept into Marriott's soft voice as he relived the adventure. For six hours and 343 miles, from New Orleans to Vicksburg, Miss., Marriott grasped the helm of a 38-foot, 600-horsepower Scarab speedboat specially prepared by the factory. Dodging tugs, barges, and river flotsam at speeds in excess of 55 miles per hour, into two hours of darkness, he tore at the New Orleans to St. Louis speed record. CAPTION: Cover Photo, Bill Marriot Jr., by Margaret Thomas; Picture 1, no caption, by margaret Thomas; Picture 2, In 1927 the Marriot empire was a single root beer stand on 14th Street in Washington called The Hot Shoppe. When the weather turned cool. it began to serve chile and hot tamales. J. Willard Marriott is seen standing in the doorway.; Picture 3, Four Marriotts meet in new luxury Marriott hotel in Boston: J.W. Marriott Jr., Richard Marriott, J. Willard Marriott and Alice Marriott. To her left is Harry L. Vincent Jr., a Marriott board member.
Now that the trip is behind him, Marriott concedes the danger: "It was like being in a black closet with sort of a pale light in front of it from the buoys. So at night for about two hours there was a risk. You don't know if you're going to hit a boat, you don't know if you're going to run aground, you don't know if you're going to hit a big log in the middle of the river."
The Marriott board of directors was so concerned about the dangers of the night dash that they insisted Marriott get off the boat after a planned refueling stop in Vicksburg. It was just as well, because the boat Marriott had been driving broke down a half-hour later. A companion boat driven by Michael Reagan, the president's son, did break the record.
"That trip was more fun that anything I've done in years," Marriott said. "I thought, as I was driving that boat, 'Not only am I doing something I like to do, but I am also trying to achieve something. I'm moving toward a goal. I'm not out for a joy ride in a boat riding around in a circle. I'm headed from Point A to Point B in an attempt to get there faster than anybody else has ever done it before.'"
Huck Finn lay on his back and looked up at the stars as he drifted down the Mississippi on a raft. But leisurely voyages of self-discovery are not the Marriott style. It is characteristic that Bill Marriott raced up the river in a test of speed and endurance fortified by the knowledge that his trip had "a purpose.""
Purpose is often lacking in the second generation of American business em pires. When he died at 42, Nicky Hilton, the playboy son of hotel magnate Conrad Hilton, was best remembered for his whirlwind 205-day marriage to Elizabeth Taylor. Bill Marriott also grew up in the shadow of an achieving father -- J. Willard Marriott, still vigorous at 82 and still chairman of the Marriott Corporation. But Bill Marriott has always cleaved to his father's values. "It's fun to build hotels, it's fun to make money," he said, punctuating his comments with laughter. "Being a playboy or a semi- playboy, that's really not fun."
The Marriott family still owns about a fourth of the company stock and their holdings, based on current prices, are worth more than $250 million. The family is unusually close, but there have been business tensions between father and son. "Working for your father is very difficult," Marriott said. "You say things to your father that you'd never say to your boss, and he says things to you that he'd never say to a subordinate." Ralph Mecham, a close friend for more than 20 years, theorizes that Bill Marriott always felt "he had something to prove" to his father. "He had to show that he was a worthy son."
Mecham, president of the Washington, D.C., Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is one of several friends who believes that Bill Marriott needs to relax. Instead, Marriott said the slack economy has caused him to work "longer hours" than "any year since I've been in the company." Late last month, during a brief so-called "vacation" at Lake Winnipesaukee, Marriott spent four hours a day handling business over the telephone. Jon Huntsman, head of the Mormon mission in Washington, recalled an earlier vacation at Camelback, the Marriott resort in Arizona: "We'd race around the golf course in about an hour. Then we'd go out for a simple dinner and see a movie. The whole thing takes three hours, and it's the highlight of the vacation."
Marriott says flatly that "it's impossible to relax in Washington." Where business pressures leave off, church work begins. Marriott serves directly under Mecham as first counselor of the stake that oversees about 4,000 Mormons, mostly in Northwest Washington and Montgomery County. Saturday afternoons and Sundays beginning at 7 a.m. are reserved for church duties. As a result, Marriott a few years ago gave up his Washington Redskins season tickets.
What time is left belongs to Marriott's family. Friday nights are reserved for his wife, Donna, and much of Saturday is spent with their 8-year-old son, David, the only one of the four Marriott children still living at home. Two other sons -- Steve, 23, and John, 21 -- attend college in Utah and say they plan to join the family business. The Marriotts' oldest child, Debby, lives with her husband on the West Coast. Marriott notes with obvious pride that his son-in-law turned down several attractive job offers to become a Marriott executive trainee.
Donna Marriott, whose closely cropped blond hair triggers memories of Mary Martin, says she "had a few rough times when the children were young and Bill was gone a lot." She also says, in talking about her husband, "If you love him, you've got to love the business. Like many corporate wives, sometimes you ask: 'When is it my turn?'" Friday night dinners out with her husband are one consolation. "Most of the time we go to one of our own places," she says. "As long as we're going out, Bill likes to see how they're doing."
Zealous concern with every detail of the restaurant and hotel business is a Marriott family tradition. Before a recent corporate board meeting at the plush new Marriott hotel in Boston, both father and son noted disapprovingly that the freshly installed beige carpeting in the lobby was collecting too much dirt. It will be changed to a darker color.
After the board meeting, which was held in the hotel's presidential suite, J. Willard Marriott, the patriarch, grabbed a visitor by the elbow and took him onto the balcony to show off the view. Fifty-five years ago, Marriott and his wife Alice had invested $2,500 in an A&W root beer stand on 14th Street in Washington. Now as he watched the sea gulls swoop down over Boston harbor from the balcony of his own luxury hotel, J. Willard Marriott looked back and marveled, "Sometimes I feel like Rip Van Winkle."
The senior Marriott has become something of a corporate icon. In many Marriott hotel rooms, guests can find an authorized biography of the company chairman along with the Gideon Bible and the Book of Mormon. During the Nixon administration, the up-from-the- bootstraps Marriott story was retold often as J. Willard Marriott stepped into the limelight as the chairman of the 1968 and 1973 inaugurals. (The senior Marriott recently described Nixon as "a great president.")
Back in 1927, the Marriotts staked all they had on the conviction that ice-cold root beer would be a sure-fire seller during the hot Washington summers. They were right. But when cold weather arrived in October, business vanished faster than a Babe Ruth home run. In desperation, the Marriotts began selling tamales and chili. The name Hot Shoppe was placed over the door because . . . well . . . the food was spicy and hot. By 1930, the business was growing faster than the unemployment lines. Griddles were sizzling in five different Hot Shoppes all over Washington as the Marriotts served up full-course meals for 65 cents.
"I think we're opportunists in a way," said the senior Marriott. "I never had any great dreams about what I was going to do. But what I was doing, I wanted to make successful. When I made that successful, I wanted to gooon to something else." This restlessness made Marriott a constant innovator. Hot Shoppes were the first drive-in East Coast restaurants. The Marriotts developed their own version of the assembly line: food for the whole chain was cooked -- according to recipe cards -- in a centralized commissary. Ever the visionary, J. Willard Marriott got into the airline catering business back in 1937 by selling box lunches to American Airlines flights serving Washington's old Hoover Airport.
The company unveiled its first hotel on the Virginia side of the 14th Street Bridge in 1956. Alice Marriott, who selected the red-and-gold decor, still fondly remembers the entire family "hanging pictures in the rooms at midnight." Despite Mormon strictures against alcohol, the Marriotts provided a cocktail lounge when they opened their fourth hotel in Philadelphia in 1960. The senior Marriott recalls explaining to the president of the Mormon church, "If I stay in the hotel business, I've got to sell liquor."
J. Willard Marriott was the creator who laid the groundwork for the company's three principal divisions--hotels, restaurants and airline and institutional catering. Bill Marriott is the consolidator who brought modern business techniques to what largely had been a mom-and-pop restaurant chain. Through it all, Bill Marriott has struggled to please a demanding father.
After a recent board meeting, the senior Marriott said, "I've never been satisfied. People say, 'Weren't you ever satisfied?' I've never been satisfied. I see things now that haven't been right all the way along."
Bill Marriott grew up certain he would join the family business, perhaps the fruit of skillful negative conditioning by his father. "I told my sons that this is a tough business and that you'd better be a stockbroker or something," the senior Marriott said. "Sometimes the things that are hard to get, you want more."
One of Bill Marriott's childhood friends, Gilbert Grosvenor, who succeeded his own father as president of the National Geographic Society, said, "My father and Bill's father used to joke that they refrained from pushing us to join the family business because it would have backfired."
Bill Marriott and his younger brother, Richard, 43, now the corporate vice president in charge of the restaurant division, were raised on a steady diet of Hot Shoppes. "I followed my dad around when I was a little kid, from the time I was 6 or 7 years old," Bill Marriott says. "We used to go around to the Hot Shoppes. When I was in high school I worked there summers . . . I've been kind of in the business all my life."
Unlike his father, Bill Marriott was a child of privilege. He attended the best local schools (Sidwell Friends, St. Albans), was an Eagle Scout and had a mother who was always there when he returned home from school. He never dreamed of being a scientist, an explorer or a baseball star. Grosvenor, who attended Sidwell Friends with Marriott, recalls, "I never heard Bill aspire to be anything else."
For three generations, Marriotts have attended college in Utah where they find wives who are also Mormons. Sterling Colton, now general counsel of the Marriott Corporation, was two years ahead of Bill Marriott at the University of Utah, and both were members of Sigma Chi fraternity. "Bill was more of a loner back then and somewhat studious," Colton said. "He could have been a playboy, but wasn't . . . though he did have one of the nicer cars on campus." The car was a Jaguar XK-120 roadster.
In the last semester of his senior year, Marriott began dating his future wife, the daughter of his speech professor. As Donna Marriott put it, "I probably fell in love with Bill's parents before I fell in love with him. They're such down-to-earth people." After graduation, Bill Marriott went into the Navy as a supply officer and thereby became the only male in the family not to do missionary work for the Mormon church. "We got engaged on the telephone," Donna Marriott said, chuckling at the memory.
Fresh out of the Navy, Bill Marriott went to work for his father in 1956. Within months, he was managing the company's two fledgling motels on the Virginia side of the Potomac. "I think Bill always felt that one day he'd take over the company because he was the oldest son," Donna Marriott said. "But I don't think he ever thought that he'd be so young."
The company in those days was little more than an extension of the Marriott family. "My uncles were all involved in the business, our friends were all involved, everyone we knew was involved in the business," said Dick Marriott. But the new president saw that a growing company required professional managers -- not relatives, family friends and former store managers. "I had to terminate between 20 and 30 people," Bill Marriott said, explaining that most of them were asked to retire. "My dad could never had done what I did."
It was an agonizing period for Marriott. Jon Huntsman recalls seeing him "physically sick" after having to replace friends and relatives from his father's generation in the company. "He was young and a lot of the people he was letting go had changed his diapers," said Sterling Colton who joined the company in 1965, and whose father was J. Willard Marriott's original partner.
In the late 1960s, father and son had sharply conflicting visions of the company's future. "I wanted to grow in hotels," Bill Marriott said. But for a small company with limited capital, that meant a heavy burden of debt. J. Willard Marriott viewed hotels as a high-risk business and was almost as fiercely opposed to unnecessary borrowing as he was to unions. Dick Marriott believes that the Depression "put the fear of God into my father with relation to debt, fast expansion and overexpansion . . . It made him a very conservative businessman."
Caution prevailed, and now Bill Marriott looks back at lost opportunities: "I would have gone a lot faster had I the concurrence of my father." A few new hotels were built and they quickly boasted one of the highest occupancy rates in thethat t business. "I think my father became impressed with our ability to run successful hotels and make money at it," said Bill Marriott.
Growth has always been Bill Marriott's trademark. In 1967, he negotiated the purchase of Bob's Big Boy, a chain of coffee shops based in California: "I had never been involved in a big acquisition before of anything. I was on my own. I was 34 years old and I was dealing in the big leagues. It was a lot of money. We were buying a business we only knew a little about in another part of the country. It was a stressful experience."
This year, in the midst of a recession,, the company has bought Host and gobbled up the Gino's fast-food chain in a deal that Marriott describes as "a big risk for us." He believes the choice is between expansion or or stagnation. "I have seen chains that have adopted a no-growth approach in the hotel business and I have seen them go out of business," Marriott said. "The reason is that a good person, after he's been in the same job for five years . . . starts looking around for something else. And then the whole ball of twine starts to unravel. You lose your senior people . . . then your properties start deteriorating, service starts going and you start losing money."
G. Michael Hostage, the president of Howard Johnson's, praises Bill Marriott as "a great risk-taker." Hostage, who was executive vice president of Marriott until 1977, describes the company as "exceptionally well managed in a pragmatic and informal way."
Within the company, Bill Marriott performs the twin roles of morale-builder and decision-maker. He crisscrosses the Marriott empire like a politician constantly shaking hands and posing for pictures with local employes. When he's in his office, Marriott spends most of his time in meetings with subordinates. "The worst things that can happen in a meeting is for no conclusion at all to be reached," he said. "I abhor these meetings that don't decide anything."
Fred Malek, the controversial director of White House personnel in the Nixon administration who is now the company's executive vice president, painted a portrait of Bill Marriott making a decision. In one of the most daring gambles in company history, Marriott is building a luxury hotel amid the porno shops in New York's Times Square. Location is one high-risk factor, construction costs are another. When the original contractor refused to give a firm cost estimate, Bill Marriott convened a high-level corporate meeting to decide whether to switch contractors.
"Sitting around the room with Bill Marriott are five or six people discussing the pros and cons of the decision," said Malek. "Some are pushing one way and some are pushing another." Amid this indecision, Marriott pounds the table and says, according to Malek: "How can you ask me to take this risk? You don't know what can happen to construction costs in New York. It can balloon up by $50 or $100 million. That's all our equity. Dammit, have you really thought this through?" The company changed contractors.
Bill Marriott admits making mistakes. A few were missed opportunities: not anticipating the fast-food boom and not expanding the hotel business fast enough. Most of the others were failures to recognize the limitations of the Marriott system. "A big mistake," said Bill Marriott, was the purchase of the Sun Lines cruise ships. "We thought it was floating hotels. It's not." Sun Lines is profitable, but, Marriott says, "it's not a business we can grow in." A well-publicized effort in the mid-1970s to create upscale dinner houses (Phineas, Joshua Tree) that substituted recipe cards for trained chefs mostly produced management headaches. "It took as much effort to run 17 dinner houses as it did to run 200 Roy Rogers," said Dick Marriott.
Once Bill Marriott fretted about a $30,000 real estate deal. He still talks about "the heartache and the stomachache" of the business. But he also knows that he has won his fathes in thethat ter's approval. "My boys are tremendously successful in their home, their private life and in their finances," said J. Willard Marriott. "Their business, any way you want to look at it, is tremendously successful."