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Marriott CEO Arne M. Sorenson dies at 62

The executive, who helped transform the Maryland-based chain into the world’s largest hotelier, had been battling pancreatic cancer since 2019

Arne M. Sorenson, president and CEO of Marriott International, participates in a meeting with tourism industry executives at the White House in 2020. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Arne M. Sorenson, the chief executive who oversaw Marriott International’s global expansion and transformed it into the world’s largest hotelier, has died. He was 62.

Sorenson had continued to work after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2019, seeing the chain through a pandemic that has slashed revenue by 70 percent. This month, the company announced he would cut back on his schedule to undergo more rigorous medical treatment.

The Bethesda, Md.-based hotel giant announced his death in a news release Tuesday. The company also said that executives Stephanie Linnartz and Tony Capuano, who have been overseeing day-to-day operations since early February, would continue in those roles until Marriott’s board of directors appoints a new CEO in the next two weeks.

“Arne was an exceptional executive — but more than that — he was an exceptional human being,” executive chairman J.W. Marriott Jr. said in the release. “On behalf of the Board and Marriott’s hundreds of thousands of associates around the world, we extend our heartfelt condolences to Arne’s wife and four children. We share your heartbreak, and we will miss Arne deeply.”

Born Oct. 13, 1958, Sorenson started his career as a lawyer with the Washington-based firm Latham and Watkins. He met then-chief executive Marriott Jr. while representing the company in a shareholder case and joined the firm four years later, in 1996. He rose through the ranks quickly, becoming the company’s third chief executive — and the first one outside the Marriott family — in 2012.

Sorenson’s tenure was marked by the $13.6 billion acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts in 2016, a deal that added well-known brands such as St. Regis and Sheraton to Marriott’s portfolio and cemented its status as the world’s largest hotelier. His leadership led to a rapid international expansion that included acquisitions in Canada and South Africa, as well as the creation of boutique brands — such as Moxy Hotels, known for its casual bistros and large communal spaces — aimed at millennial travelers.

“We think we have about 730,000 people that wear our name badge every day,” Sorenson said during a 2019 speech. “What we aspire to is that every one of those associates, no matter how senior or junior their job is, deserves to be treated with the kind of dignity that every human being deserves. They deserve to be able to grow in their job if they want to grow in their job. They deserve to be able to take pride in their work. If they take pride in their work, they’re going to deliver something that’s even better for our guests and customers.”

Marriott got its start in 1927 as an A&W root beer franchise in Washington’s Columbia Heights neighborhood. The family-owned business soon added hot food to its menu and rebranded as Hot Shoppes. It wasn’t until 1957 that Marriott made its foray into the hotel industry, with the first motor hotel in Arlington.

In the decades since, Marriott has grown into an international powerhouse with more than 7,500 hotel and resort properties spanning 30 brands in 132 countries and territories, and a market capitalization of $42.3 billion. Once known for cookie-cutter hotels favored by business travelers, the company has expanded into boutique properties with local flair. Its brands range from budget chains such as Residence Inn and Courtyard by Marriott to the high-end Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis.

“Arne always offered a vision that extended well beyond the lodging sector he so expertly represented,” said Roger Dow, chief executive of the U.S. Travel Association. “He was an ally, a trusted friend and a partner. I will miss him terribly.”

The coronavirus pandemic has created mounting challenges for Marriott, leading it to furlough tens of thousands of workers and lay off nearly 700 employees at its corporate headquarters since last spring. Revenue fell nearly 60 percent in the most recent quarter, to $2.3 billion from $5.3 billion a year earlier.

Still, the corporation remains one of the Washington region’s largest companies and employers. Marriott is scheduled to release its quarterly earnings Thursday.

The company’s stock fell slightly after the announcement then rebounded, closing at $130.40, up 0.7 percent. Shares are down about 10 percent from a year earlier.

“Thanks to his tireless dedication, he spearheaded a decade of tremendous growth for one of the biggest companies founded and headquartered in our county,” Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker (D-District 5) said in a statement. “His business acumen was incomparable, but above all, Arne was a devoted and caring leader.”