Following the news of his death after nearly two years of battling pancreatic cancer, several current and former Marriott International employees shared how CEO Arne Sorenson was leading with his heart.
“I consider Arne’s legacy to Marriott and the hospitality industry to be immeasurable. Perhaps one of Arne’s greatest legacies is his principled and gracious leadership, an ‘Esprit de Corps’ that I believe has been today, and certainly for generations, from global employees Rooted by Marriott Come on, said Gregory Miller, a former long-time Marriott employee and now a property analyst with Truist.
Miller added that he was “gutted” when he heard the news.
Sorenson, who made Marriott the world’s largest hotel chain after acquiring Starwood Hotels & Resorts for $ 13 billion in 2016, died at the age of 62, the company said Tuesday.
As a journalist who covered the company for several years, Sorenson’s warmth was evident.
Sorenson knew every name at a conference. He would take the time to ask about your family. He never hesitated to answer difficult questions about the rights and policies of hotel workers. He exemplified what many executives try but often don’t do: show compassion.
Unlike other corporate leaders who tend to stick to the script, Sorenson didn’t hold back in interviews and barely crushed words.
In a 2018 interview with CNBC, Sorenson said the US-China trade war and the Trump administration’s rhetoric regarding immigration had resulted in fewer foreign arrivals and new visas being issued.
Earlier this year, Sorenson was one of the first CEOs to speak out and condemn the January 6 uprising in the U.S. Capitol.
“I realize that we have staff who have very different views about the results of these elections and the direction of the United States … but what we cannot do is trample the Constitution,” he said at the time.
Marriott – in Bethesda, Maryland, just outside Washington, DC – quickly followed Sorenson’s testimony by making political donations to the Republicans who voted against Joe Biden’s certification as president. Other companies responded similarly.
At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, when hundreds of Marriott employees were vacationing, Sorenson tore up a speech to employees in mid-March.
“I can tell you that I’ve never had a more difficult moment than this,” he said at the time. “There is nothing worse than telling valued employees, the people who are at the heart of this company, that their roles are being influenced by events that are completely beyond their control.”
While competition has only increased in the past five years, perhaps his longstanding friendship with one of his greatest rivals, Hilton CEO Chris Nassetta, was a good testament to the kind of leader Sorenson was. Nassetta said, “I will miss him and the friendship we have built.”
I will miss him and the friendship we have built.
Sorenson’s death drew a lot of support and recognition from CEOs, political leaders, and business executives in a variety of industries, including Walmart CEO Doug McMillon and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.
The time for Sorenson’s death comes as the hospitality industry is still hit by the effects of Covid-19 while preparing for a possible recovery in the second half of this year.
A new 2021 trending report from Expedia found that 42% of respondents said the recent coronavirus vaccine news made them more hopeful about travel or made them want to book an upcoming trip.
A big recovery and a return to bigger venues like resorts, Marriott announced plans last week to more than double its portfolio of all-inclusive resorts with an additional 19 new hotels, all located in the Caribbean. Central America and Mexico.
“Inclusive resorts have become more attractive during the pandemic,” Tony Capuano, Marriott’s global development director, told CNBC in early February.
Capuano will continue day-to-day operations with Stephanie Linnartz, Group President of Consumer Operations. While the hotel operator is unlikely to name a successor for Sorenson anytime soon, the company is said to be considering Capuano and Linnartz, as well as current CFO Leeny Oberg, as potential CEO candidates.
Marriott is also facing competition from emerging competitor Airbnb, which saw a sharp surge in bookings last year as consumers fled major cities for more space and comfort.
Peter Kern, Expedia CEO, said its rental platform saw “strong growth” over the last quarter. In a CNBC interview last week, Kern dismissed the idea that travelers will not return to hotels.
“”[Home rentals] Airbnb has been an important part of what goes on there and we obviously respect what they achieved. But I don’t think this is a big change in the way we all want to travel. Many of us want to go back to the spa or the hotel pool, “Kern said on February 12 at” Squawk on the Street “.
Marriott reports profits on Thursday and the leadership change is likely to be a topic of discussion.