When your family has been in the hotel business for almost 60 years, and its name is on the marquee of 4,200 hotels in 80 countries, there’s a responsibility that comes with that. Spend any time with J. Willard (Bill) Marriott, and it’s clear the legendary, down-to-earth hotelier takes the responsibility seriously.

Having grown up in the hospitality industry (Marriott’s father, J. Willard Sr., started the company with an A&W root beer stand in Washington in 1927), Marriott has witnessed endless change, but the most notable has been the proliferation of brands. “When we started there was only Hilton and Sheraton, no Hyatt, a couple of Westins, Holiday Inn —maybe five brands. Today, we have 19 brands and one of our competitors, Hilton, has 12 or 13 brands.” But are there too many brands? “No. We’ve introduced one new brand a year for the last four years. There are a tremendous number of brands, and there are different market segments,” says Marriott, pointing to fledgling lifestyle brands such as Moxy Hotels, AC and Edition as well as the recently acquired Delta Hotels & Resorts.

Of course, one can’t survey the hotel landscape without seeing the emphasis on technology, says Marriott, noting changes in everything from how guests check in to how they book their stays.

Technology, and the impact of the millennial demographic, is also affecting hotel designs, says the 83-year-old chairman of the Board. For example, the chain is minimizing its closet space, because two-thirds of guests like to live out of their suitcases. “They don’t need a closet, because they don’t hang anything up,” he quips. The guestroom footprint is also getting smaller, because certain furniture, such as desks, are no longer required. Millennials prefer to work on their laptops in bed, and bathtubs are being replaced by showers. There’s even a movement to hard-surface flooring, he adds.

Not surprisingly, demographic changes are also filtering down into the HR department, fuelling changes in how employees are trained and developed. “Millennials want to be treated fairly, they want to be taught and trained,” says Marriott. “They want opportunities to grow; they’re impatient. If we provide opportunities for them to grow, and the training, they’ll become long-term associates.”
Either way, basic service should always be consistent. “Make guests feel welcome, take care of their needs, and make sure their rooms are cleaned and well made up,” says the hotelier.

Praised for his leadership style and his company’s strong corporate culture, Marriott has learned to listen. “Outside of listening, perseverance is very important. Keep moving the ball, look for opportunities to grow the business, and make sure you follow up on opportunities. Realize success is never final, and it’s important companies [don’t] rest on their laurels.” And, he adds: “Leave your ego at the door.”


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