You know you are getting older when, instead of attending birthday parties and weddings, you are attending funerals. I’ve come to realize that some of the greatest stories about individuals and their impact on others only seem to come out in the eulogies. Before I get any older, I wanted to express my admiration and appreciation for the example Mr. Marriott gave me as a leader and how it has formed my management style.
While still in college, I joined Marriott in 1976 as a charter member of Marriott’s Great America in Santa Clara. And just 5 years later, I was fortunate to serve as the opening director of services for Marriott’s 100th property, the Maui Marriott Resort, the first in the state of Hawaii. What I remember to this day was how Mr. Marriott would walk the backstage areas and greet everyone with a smile and a handshake. He didn’t wait for someone to approach him. He initiated the interaction. As managers, we all went through orientation where we learned the mantra of J.W. Marriott, Sr., “Take good care of your employees and they’ll take good care of the customers.” And in the gesture of Mr. Marriott, Jr. walking around to introduce himself to all of us, it was obvious the mantra wasn’t simply a slogan, but really something that drove the leadership philosophy of the company. While I left Marriott shortly thereafter I always remembered that example.
Eight years ago, while I was general manager, The Inn at Bay Harbor became the first Renaissance franchise in Michigan. While Mr. Marriott was not able to attend the conversion ceremonies, the regional team, all of the same generation as Mr. Marriott, exhibited the same genuine warmth in greeting all our associates and welcoming them to the extended Marriott family. And every Marriott regional VP has done that with every subsequent visit. That gesture was very apparent to me because I had not seen that kind of management culture since leaving Marriott.
Thirty-five years after my first day at Great America, I was the charter general manager of The Henry – Autograph Collection which for 21 years stood as the Ritz-Carlton Dearborn. Mr. Marriott came through on a tour of the property. Since The Henry is a franchise, he did not have to do that during his two-day tour as there are many Marriott managed properties in Detroit. But he did. Serving many years as a Board member of General Motors, he had visited often when it was a Ritz-Carlton. Many of the same associates were there to greet him on his first visit to The Henry. We had the line of associates upon his arrival and he took the time to shake everyone’s hand. But what I remember was that on our tour of the property, he made it a point to acknowledge every associate as he had done in Maui.
Between my days in Maui and my time at The Henry, I have worked for other corporate hotel companies and had the chance to meet very senior staff and had them visit my properties. I can tell you that the genuine appreciation that Mr. Marriott shows on every visit to every associate just doesn’t happen in other hotel companies. And there just doesn’t seem the sense of collaboration, that “we are in this together” feeling that Marriott leaders create. The lesson here: It all starts at the top. A handshake and a smile from the Chairman may seem like a very small thing, but it certainly made an impact on my leadership style. From day one, I understood you simply can’t lead from the corner office.
I am sure many Marriott current staff and alumni have stories on how Mr. Marriott and Marriott International have affected their lives. What’s yours?