Bill Marriott Shares Leadership Lessons He Learned From Running the First Marriott Hotel

Originally published on LinkedIn by former Executive Chairman and Chairman of the Board Bill Marriott. Marriott International is a Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Hall of Fame company. 


This week will mark 65 years since Marriott International opened its first lodging property, the Twin Bridges Motor Hotel in Arlington, Virginia in 1957.

It honestly feels like yesterday. I remember my parents, J.W. and Alice Marriott and I were up late the night before the grand opening, hanging pictures on the walls in the guest rooms.

We were so proud of our hotel, which had 375 rooms. We didn’t offer many amenities – no reservation system, no gym, no meeting rooms – just two double beds and a black and white television for $9 a night plus $1 for every extra person in the room. Back then, bellboys on bicycles directed the guests to their rooms – the guests followed behind the bicycles in their cars. There was no loyalty program and we billed our hotel as the largest motel in the world.

It was the start of what would become Marriott International.

When I told my father, who started the Hot Shoppes restaurant business in 1927, that I wanted to oversee that first hotel, his response was, “You don’t know anything about the hotel business.”

I replied, “Neither does anyone else around here. Let’s roll the dice.”


General Managers Key to Success

I have since learned a lot about the hotel business and one of my biggest takeaways is that there is no position more key to the success of a hotel than its general manager (GM).

Working as a GM requires a skill set developed over years of hands-on experience. It’s a demanding job. You are ultimately in charge of accounting, sales and marketing, food and beverage, housekeeping, security, engineering, event planning, the front desk, concierge services, room service, human resources, guest services and more.

In a staffing pinch, often a GM has to vacuum rooms or put together room service trays. Always, a GM must manage expenses. I remember noticing a large sum under the “other” category in the Twin Bridges’ budget years ago. When I investigated, I found that guests were taking our plastic-covered cardboard ice buckets on the road with them when they checked out. The ice buckets were handy on a road trip, for sure, but at a dollar apiece, those “souvenirs” were eating into our profits. I ordered permanent ice buckets for the rooms instead.


Not a Desk Job

The GM position is not a desk job. GMs should be walking the hotel, talking to associates and guests, confirming that the hot food is hot and the cold food is cold, that the trash is picked up, the sheets and towels are clean and ready for use and, most importantly, that the guests and the associates are looked after with a smile.
GMs are most successful when they listen. I have seen some really smart people promoted to management roles only to develop a big ego. When they do that, they tend to lose their way.

Since our founding, we have been a company that puts people first and listens, whether we’re listening to guests, associates or our owners and franchisees. We want to know and be responsive to what people think.

Good GMs know their team members by name and are familiar with their stories. Most importantly, they know their career aspirations.

We are fortunate at Marriott. We tend to retain our GMs for decades. Many of them start as hourly workers and are promoted into management, often moving between many of our 30 hotel brands at our more than 7,900 properties all over the world. Having talked to thousands of GMs over the years, I can tell you that they genuinely love the work, the people, the culture of the company and their opportunity for career growth.

We’re launching new series highlighting some of our exceptional general managers. You’ll get a chance to hear their inspiring stories for yourself and understand why Marriott International is such an amazing company to work for.

Hotels are not just buildings. They are places where careers are built, lives are changed and people are celebrated. I hope you’ll take a moment to listen to these GM stories and if you’re inclined, join us at Marriott International. We’d love to have you.