Marriotts Share Principles of Moral and Ethical Leadership

Contributed By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • 2 December 2015

J. W. “Bill” Marriott, with his wife, Donna, responds after the two were presented the Pioneer in Leadership Award from the BYU Management Society, Utah Valley Chapter.  Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

Article Highlights

  • One characteristic of good leadership is to ask members of one’s team what they think is best, formulate a decision, and then move ahead with it.
  • Humility is a key element to successful leadership.

“I think the culture and the background of our company goes right along with the Church: take good care of the people that work for you, they’ll take good care of the customer, and the customer will be delighted to come back.” —J. W. “Bill” Marriott of Marriott International

For many years the Marriott name has been associated in the minds of Latter-day Saints with enormous success in the hotel industry coupled with generous philanthropy and faithful membership in the Church.

Now, two prominent members of the Marriott family—J. W. “Bill” Marriott and his wife, Donna—have been honored with the Pioneer in Leadership Award presented by the BYU Management Society, Utah Valley Chapter, largely due to the Marriotts’ commitment to moral and ethical leadership.

Brother and Sister Marriott received the award November 10 at the chapter's eighth annual gala scholarship fundraiser held at the Utah Valley Convention Center in Provo.

“Brother Marriott is well-known throughout the business world for his stand on leadership,” Larry Stevenson, chapter president, said in presenting the award. “At a time when he was questioned by some, he changed the model for the Marriott Corp. in moving it into more of a franchise property management, allowing others to build the buildings and they would establish the quality service that would be provided. He began also to diversify the name into various brands that all meant the same thing: outstanding excellent comfort for those who are traveling, whether for family or for business.

“But in addition to that, he has stood for ethical leadership.”

J. W. “Bill” and Donna Marriott receive applause after being presented the Pioneer in Leadership Award by Larry Stevenson, right, president of the BYU Management Society, Utah Valley Chapter. Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

Brother Stevenson said one of the case studies used in the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University is on Brother Marriott’s corporation. “For when the Iron Curtain fell and people moved into that new wild-west environment of Eastern Europe, he went into a partnership with three major corporations in the Eastern European area. To make a long story short, when one official would not allow the business to proceed until he received a $4,000 bribe, Mr. Marriott decided to walk away from the venture, which netted his successor $26 million in the first year. That is moral and ethical leadership!”

J. W. “Bill” Marriott responds to a question posed by his daughter, Debbie, during an onstage interview after receiving the Pioneer in Leadership Award from the BYU Management Society, Utah Valley Chapter. Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

He said Sister Marriott has also exemplified leadership in the Church, her family, and the community. “As one who chooses to stay behind the scenes and do her work in a less visible approach, she has nevertheless been the example of leadership that we wish to honor.”

After the award presentation, the Marriotts’ daughter, Deborah Marriott Harrison, conducted an onstage interview with her father.

She asked him to tell about the company’s history. He said that in 1927, his parents, J. Willard and Alice Marriott, married in the Salt Lake Temple. Thereafter, in Washington, D.C., they opened up a root beer stand. In the winter, when people stopped drinking root beer, they offered food. Subsequently, they opened the first drive-in restaurant east of the Mississippi River.

J. W. “Bill” Marriott responds to a question posed by his daughter, Debbie, during an onstage interview after receiving the Pioneer in Leadership Award from the BYU Management Society, Utah Valley Chapter. Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

From there they expanded to airline catering and food service management and finally, 30 years later, in 1957, they opened their first hotel.

Asked why culture is so important to the organization, Brother Marriott said, “I think the culture and the background of our company goes right along with the Church: take good care of the people that work for you, they’ll take good care of the customer, and the customer will be delighted to come back.”

He said characteristics of good leadership are to ask members of one’s team what they think is best, formulate a decision, and then move ahead with it.

Humility is a key element to successful leadership, he added.

“My father always talks about the word more; that that’s his favorite word,” Sister Harrison said. “Our little root beer stand has grown into 4,300 hotels in 83 countries around the world, and we have more than 350,000 associates that work for us now, some in franchised hotels and others in our managed properties. So tell us what some of our great milestones have been and what you’re looking forward to.”

Brother Marriott responded, “This year in June we passed a million-room mark—a million rooms either open, under construction, or under contract. … The growth is great … but the thing I like about it the most is that we give more opportunity for our associates to move up in the chain of command and become their own general managers, to become area vice presidents; almost all senior leadership of our company has come from out of the ranks and been given an opportunity to do better in their lives.”

He spoke of his ancestor, Elizabeth Stuart, who was 17 years old in England in 1849 when she accepted the message of missionaries and joined the Church. “She was working as a maid in a house in Northampton. She saved her pennies and got on a sailing ship and came to New Orleans. … She walked across the plains, kept a good pair of shoes around her neck so she could look good when she walked into the [Salt Lake] Valley and wore an old pair across the plains. … She went from door to door looking for work. Six months later, she met my great-grandfather, John Marriott, and they were married. They lived in a wagon bed and finally a house of sod. She was a great leader in our family, and when she was 75 years old, she was president of the Primary and Relief Society in Ogden and an active temple worker, driving her horse and buggy frequently down to the Salt Lake Temple.”

If she hadn’t been taught the gospel, converted, and come to America, “I wouldn’t be here, the Marriott name wouldn’t be where it is today,” he said. “We wouldn’t have a business like we have today, and it’s been all the difference in the world.”

He also spoke of his father, who grew up in poverty, served a mission in the Eastern states, then visited Washington, D.C., for the first time, saw how hot it was, came back to Utah, and worked his way through college. “One day he walked by the A&W Root Beer stand in downtown Salt Lake and he said, ‘Washington, D.C. is an awful hot and humid place; maybe I could sell root beer in Washington.’

“So because he was a missionary, because he had crossed the Wasatch Front, because he’d lived on the East Coast, and because he’d seen hot, old Washington, he had a knowledge enough of that area to establish a business. So it’s been a major, major influence on the growth and development of our company.”

The Marriotts are the first co-recipients of the award, which has previously been conferred upon Sheri L. Dew, Clayton M. Christensen, LaVell Edwards, Stephen R. Covey, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Glenn Beck, and Dale Murphy.