To recognize the leadership and impact Arne Sorenson, former President and CEO of Marriott International who died in early 2021, had on the hotel industry, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) and The BHN Group have awarded former BWH Hotel Group President and CEO David Kong with the first-ever Arne Sorenson Social Impact Leadership Award.
Created in July 2021, the AHLA and The BHN Group said the award would “be presented to a senior-level executive in the lodging industry who strives to drive change through strong leadership and community engagement, exemplifying these values every day.”
Kong was recognized for the award at the AHLA Foundation’s fundraising gala, the Night of a Thousand Stars, and at the 21st annual Americas Lodging Investment Summit (ALIS), both held in January.
In a recent interview with DiversityInc, Kong said Arne was a tremendous leader and amazing in so many ways, from being strategic to setting up Marriott for unprecedented success. He added that he was also a “kind and genuine person” and shared a memory of Sorenson’s kindness.
“I remember 17 years ago when I first met him. We were on a panel together at the International Hospitality show in New York City. We walked out, and his daughter was waiting for him in the car. He was going somewhere, but he offered me a ride back to the hotel, and I thought that was so gracious and considerate of him,” he said.
In March 2020, “when the pandemic was just starting to rear its ugly head,” Kong said he, Sorenson and other hotel CEOs met with former President Donald Trump at the White House to discuss how the government could help the hotel industry with a bailout. But Kong said Sorenson was more concerned with what would happen to the hotel employees.
“Arne talked about asking the government to expand the unemployment benefits because he knew we were all going to lay off a lot of people,” he said. “He was more concerned about the people. And that’s again illustrative to the kind of person he was.”
In a LinkedIn post, Kong said Sorenson was “a visionary and transformative leader. Not only did he lead Marriott International to unprecedented success, but he was also keen on CSR, DEI and ESG long before these terms became vogue.”
Because of Sorenson’s kindness and contributions to the hotel industry, Kong said, “to receive an award in his namesake is truly humbling and gratifying.”
“I hope this award will continue to inspire people to make an impact on so many things that surround us, just like Arne has,” Kong added.
In a 2019 one-on-one interview with DiversityInc CEO Carolynn Johnson, Sorenson spoke to this commitment of people as Kong described and shared what he did to be an ally to people who were different than him with fewer opportunities than him.
“I don’t come at it with a philosophy of allyship; I come at it with a human-centric approach where we must see each other as people first and try to get to know people and try and be there with them for whatever it is that they are going through,” he said. “That’s going to come up every day in dozens of opportunities. It will depend on the job we each have, but I get to interact with hundreds, if not thousands, of members of our team and know many of them.
“I start with them first as who are they. [Members of my workforce] are not a symbol to me; they are an individual to me first. If I can be engaged with them in navigating their careers or their lives; growing their careers to the extent of their ability and effort, both of which are quite relevant, I can take enormous pride in that. To be engaged in saying, I’m there with you no matter what historical or current bias you’re fighting against; no matter what personal experience you’re fighting against or with and basically say let’s find a way where you can grow in your job and I can be there with you, that’s a great thing to be a part of.”