Happiest of birthdays, Mr. Marriott!

Happiest of birthdays to the greatest of the great hospitality leaders!

I agree with Marriott International when they say that Mr. Marriott’s “impact on the hospitality industry is only exceeded by his kindness”. On his birthday, 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. On opening day, Mr. Marriott welcomed all of us. 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. “Take good care of your employees and they’ll take good care of the customers.” And in the gesture of Mr. Marriott 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.

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 was 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.

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. The lesson here: It all starts at the top. A handshake and a smile from the Executive Chairman may seem to him like a very small thing, but it certainly made an impact on all of us. From day one, I understood you simply can’t lead from the corner office.

Happiest of birthdays, Mr. Marriott!

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