Over the course of 40 years, J.W. Marriott Jr. took his family business to become the most well known name in the hospitality industry. The Marriott company employs more than 360,000 associates, who serve in 4100 hotels worldwide, this global giant has made a significant impact on the way we experience the world.
Wholeheartedness was a character quality instilled into J.W. Marriott, Jr. “Bill” from early on. Bill recalls how his father mentored him as a youngster, “My father gave me the responsibility of a man… He would tell me what he wanted done, but never said much about how to do it. It was up to me to find out for myself.” Bill came from a devout Mormon family, and followed in his father’s footsteps. Devotion was drilled into his character every step of the way from the family farm, to the restaurants, hotel businesses, and through the missionary work he did as a part of his faith tradition. His father was gregarious and outgoing, while Bill is more of a shy and private man. In the midst of being different, Bill was encouraged to be his own man, and to develop a deep sense of mission in life, and to be devoted to his work.
Bill grew up with a keen awareness of humble beginnings. He knew the value of being faithful in small things. The Marriott company rose from a small root beer stand in Washington D.C. in 1927 to a chain of family restaurants by 1932, to its first motel in 1957. He became the President of the family business in 1964 at the age of thirty-two, and eventually CEO in 1972, and through his leadership, took the Marriott family business to become the most recognized name in the hospitality industry. Bill emerged as a leader with an understanding that all good things start off small. Even after the company grew to include hundreds of restaurants and hotels, Bill and his father J. Willard Marriott traveled together often to personally inspect every establishment they operated, paying close attention to the smallest details.
His mother, Alice Marriott, remarked that her son always pushed himself to work doubly hard to prove himself. His father J. Willard Sr., created a solid foundation for him to build on, and neither of them wanted Bill to live under his father’s shadow. Bill certainly proved himself by taking the Marriott company to heights unimaginable by any standard of measure. Marriott encompasses 4,100 hotels around the world, and more than 360,000 associates, with $3.6 billion in revenue for 2014. Yet, in all of his success, he has always seen his life as serving a greater purpose. Bill has served actively in his church as a bishop, and his missionary work extends beyond his church leadership to his business. A Book of Mormon is placed in every Marriott Hotel room.
Bill has financially prospered and accumulated more than what most human beings have ever seen in life. And yet, he has said, “I can state without hesitation that material wealth has nothing to do with happiness, but is usually the case of great unhappiness. Happiness comes from the inner peace and spiritual strength we can build up within us, from serving the Lord, and obeying his commandments, from doing right, and from the love of our family. And it comes from serving and helping others.” In addition to tithing and volunteering in his church, Bill has given much time and money to many noteworthy causes, and has invested significantly in education. Bill was always a family man, he has said, “Family has always been number one in my life… Family over work. It’s how our family business has grown, how we keep our associates and why Marriott is recognized as ‘One of The Best Places to Work.’ Putting family first is good for business.”
For over four decades as CEO of the hotel chain that bears his family name, Bill Marriott was known for his hands on style of running the business that he called, “management by walking around.” He would say to his associates, “See and be seen. Get out of your office, walk the talk, make yourself visible and accessible.” He made it a point to demonstrate leadership by being present. He was a leader who cared for his people. He said, “Take good care of your associates, and they’ll take good care of your customers.” Whenever there was anything that he wanted his associates to emulate, he set the example by being the first to lead by action and not just by words. He believed in leading by listening. He has said, “I try to remember that as long as I’m talking, I can’t be learning about the problem, and if I don’t know about it, how can I help solve it?”