From Marriott, tips for success
Hotel mogul offers advice to university business students
Published: Monday, October 28, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 28, 2013 22:10
“What do you think?”
J.W. Marriott says those are the four most important words in the English language. After those words were spoken to him by President Dwight Eisenhower in the winter of 1954, Marriott has used them as the basis for his philosophy in business, he says.
On Thursday, students, faculty and members of the greater community had the opportunity to attend a lecture with Marriott as the keynote speaker. He talked about the history of his hotel company, stories from his career and lessons he learned along the way. The speech, which is part of the Chaplain Tyler series, is one of several over the course of the year organized by the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics.
Bill Marriott is the Executive Chairman and former Chief Executive of Marriott International, a multinational hotel chain with over 3,700 hotels in 73 countries. Marriott, who is 80 years old, said he has been in the industry for over five decades. His daughter, Debbie Marriott Harrison, director of Government Affairs for Marriott, joined him for the lecture.
Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management chair Sheryl Kline says she was excited for Marriott’s talk.
“Mr. Marriott is one of the top leaders in the hotel industry,” Kline says. “He created a company that has been ranked as one of the best companies to work for, and the Marriott Corporation recruits heavily from our students.”
Marriott began the lecture by giving a brief history of the Marriott company. He told of its beginnings as a root beer stand in Washington, D.C., which later expanded into a full-service restaurant. Due to the close proximity to the Washington airport, he says his father signed a deal to provide in-flight catering to Eastern Airlines, becoming the first in-flight catering company. At the time, he says he was working at one of his family’s restaurants near the University of Utah.
Marriott says his first job was cleaning the deep fryer at the restaurant, a position he held for several years. After 30 years in the business, his father opened the first Marriott hotel in northern Virginia, he says. This hotel was Marriott’s first real managing experience. He says he worked to turn around a hotel that was struggling at the time by thinking outside the box.
Marriott also discussed the culture of the company and shared his philosophy of how to run a successful business.
“If you take good care of your people and take care of the customer, the customers will come back,” he says.
Marriott stressed the importance of learning on the job, as well as listening to your advisors and coworkers.
“Getting the input of your people makes you a good executive,” he says.
Marriott says while touring the New York Marriott Marquis with the general manager and eating lunch at the employee cafeteria, he realized the manager was familiar with almost all of the hundreds of employees.
He says this helped him realize the importance of interacting with all of the employees, from hourly associates to executives.
Marriott discussed the worth of taking risks and how one should not be afraid to fail. He told an anecdote about his risks attached to opening the Marquis Hotel in New York. The hotel was a large property in a developing neighborhood, and though it was a risky bet, Marriott opened the hotel, which is now the most profitable property in the chain.
Kim Ragan, part of the team from the Lerner College that helped plan the event, was particularly moved by this part of Marriott’s presentation.
“To see someone as successful as him, someone who is such an icon to say it’s okay to fail, I just thought that was really pivotal,” Ragan says.
Marriott provided students with advice on how to stand out in today’s economy. He stressed the importance of showing passion and demonstrating that it is more than just a job.
“I think it’s important to have a high energy level,” he said. “[You must] show that you want to work for the company that you are applying to.”
Many students from the HRIM major and Lerner College attended the event. Senior Jordan Sack was one of the students in attendance at Marriott’s lecture.
“I wanted to gain perspective in an area I didn’t know about,” Sack says.
As an entrepreneurship major, Sack says he was most impressed by how the hotel industry embraced change so well. He says he also appreciated Marriott’s advice on not being afraid to fail and to learn from your mistakes.
Freshman HRIM major Talia Jarmus says she learned the importance of being friendly and personable. She says she was taken aback by Marriott’s speech.
“I’m impressed to see someone who is such an icon in the hospitality industry be so modest,” Jarmus says.
HRIM students were required to read Marriott’s book “Without Reservations” as part of their First Year Experience course before attending the lecture. Kline says she hoped students who attended the lecture learned from Marriott’s experiences.
“I think our students can learn a lot from his life experience and his experience running his company,” Kline says. “He is someone our students look up to. For someone like J.W. Marriott Jr. to be so successful, it wasn’t just luck. I hope they learn that it was hard work.”
When asked about the proudest moment of his career, Marriott says it was the day of his retirement. He says he believes this is because he was able to turn the company over to someone he trusted and who understood the industry.
“He worked so hard and he has built Marriott into the corporation that it is, but he turned it over to a non-family member, is something that takes a lot of humility,” Ragan says. “It shows he is comfortable with where he is. He could just hand it over. I don’t know if I would be able to do that.”