Originally published on LinkedIn by Bill Marriott, Executive Chairman of the Board at Marriott International.
I woke up like a child on Christmas this morning because today marks the 93rd anniversary of Marriott International.
When I think back to how my newlywed parents, J.W. and Alice Marriott, started a small root beer stand in Washington, D.C., in 1927 – just three months before the start of the Great Depression – I am in awe. Our company has come such a long way from where we started. I know my parents would be astounded.
We’re living in extremely difficult times the world over and my heart goes out to those who are suffering. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about my parents, who both endured a different pandemic, the Spanish Flu of 1918.
My mother was severely impacted when her father, Edwin Sheets, died from the Spanish Flu in 1919. She was only 12 years old. One of my greatest disappointments in life is that I never met my grandfather, who was a great leader in the church and the community.
My father’s parents, Will and Ellen, were so ill from the Spanish Flu that they didn’t have the strength to care for their eight children, all of whom were also sick. A red flag flew in front of their house and a placard was nailed next to the front door with the warning: “INFLUENZA.”
By the time the pandemic abated, my dad had made plans to serve a two-year volunteer mission on the east coast for his church. The rest is Marriott history. On a stop in Washington, D.C., he noticed a pushcart vendor who couldn’t keep up with tourists’ demands for ice cold lemonade in the intense heat. That inspired a vision: Washington was a great location to open a root beer stand.
After returning to Utah to earn his high school and college degrees, my dad – always one to take advantage of the moment — would spend 58 years building up the company with a great partner, my mother. We went from a root beer stand to the Hot Shoppes restaurant chain to our first hotel in 1957 and beyond. We now have more than 7,400 hotels in 134 countries and territories. We have faced incredible challenges along the way, from economic downturns and wars to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
No matter how bad things got, though, my dad was pretty optimistic about the future. He was a great believer in five principles: put people first, pursue excellence, embrace change, act with integrity and serve our world.
From the very early days, he was dedicated to exactingly high standards of cleanliness, which has served us well for 93 years.
We continue to lean on these core values today as we face the greatest challenge the company has ever seen.
I turned 88 years old in March. I have been working with the company since I was 14 years old. My first job was helping to staple invoices together for my dad. After all these years in hospitality, I feel confident that we will get past the COVID-19 pandemic. People will travel again. Not until they feel safe, for sure. We’ll have to make adjustments in our cleaning, hygiene and food and beverage efforts. We won’t be able to accommodate large crowds for a while at our bigger convention hotels, in the way our guests are used to – but we’ll find new ways to bring people together safely. We’ll turn to digital keys and other technology to help provide social distancing between associates and guests. Many changes are on the way.
But one thing I think will never change is the human desire to socialize. People like to be with other people.
Post COVID-19, I look forward to us all getting on the road again.
Until that day, please stay safe. And join me in wishing Marriott International a happy anniversary.