Celebrating Black History Month at Marriott

Originally published on LinkedIn by David Rodriguez, Executive Vice President & Global Chief HR Officer and Board Member at American Woodmark.

It’s Black History Month and we’re celebrating at Marriott International (No. 1 on the 2020 Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list) by taking a look at our own history – honoring some of our Black associates who had a strong role in the yesteryear of our company and its success. Our company had humble beginnings and I am proud of how far we’ve come in our commitment to inclusive opportunity. I want to take a moment to salute two individuals who I am honored to call friends and colleagues. Both championed our company’s TakeCare culture, influenced the careers of countless others, and created meaningful and lasting change. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read their inspiring stories.

Dave M. Sampson

I was delighted to see Marriott recognized last year as the #1 company for diversity and inclusion across industries on the 2020 Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list.

It’s quite an accomplishment and one of the people I credit the most for it is the late Dave M. Sampson, our former senior vice president of diversity initiatives. I often think of my friend and fondly recall our work together to create what today we call the Inclusion and Social Impact Committee. At its inception in 2003, Marriott was one of the first companies to establish a Board of Directors committee focused on advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Dave spent 25 years at Marriott, and he was one of the first people to make the case that embracing diversity was not only the right thing to do, but it was good for business too. Dave helped guide the evolution of Marriott’s diversity journey.

Under his leadership, we achieved record levels of spending with diverse suppliers and opened the door to new development opportunities for minority owners and franchisees. He was also key in attracting customers and business partners across a wide spectrum of women- and minority-based organizations. Over the years, Dave wore another hat – as mentor for many associates who benefited from his experience, his insights and his warmth.

Dave was compassionate and giving of his time. When I joined Marriott in 1998, Dave embraced me like family and kindly gave time and counsel to help me get started on my new career journey. Dave was also passionate about many things. A couple of years later he hosted me at one of Michael Jordan’s last games. A slam dunk brought Dave to his feet and an inadvertent fist to the side of my face. I learned from that moment that when he was on the march about an issue that he cared about, you better get on board or get out of the way. However, it was in the quieter moments where you especially saw the strength of his leadership. He once told an associate how he would wait to speak in meetings because it wasn’t his nature to dominate a conversation. But when Dave spoke, everyone listened. He taught us all to give everyone a voice.

Dave passed away in 2007. He was a true pioneer and, in many ways, because of him diversity, equity and inclusion remain a top priority for our company. In his honor, the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation established the David M. Sampson Memorial Graduate Student Award at the University of Maryland to help the next generation of business leaders carry the torch.

Dave’s incredible legacy opened the door for associates like Erica Qualls-Battey, to whom the baton was passed.

Erica Qualls-Battey

Erica Qualls-Battey had just given birth to her fourth child in 1993. The job market was tight and her degree in counseling wasn’t opening doors. When a job answering phones at the Santa Clara (CA) Marriott came around, she accepted it.

That part-time job led to various opportunities working in the front office, accounting and human resources. Erica will tell you she remembers Bill Marriott coming to visit the property and shaking hands with every associate in the building. He left the impression that management cared. Then, unbeknownst to her, Erica’s stepfather wrote his master’s thesis on Bill Marriott and his career. Her stepfather encouraged her to stay with the company. And she soon rose in the ranks to assistant general manager at two Residence Inns in Silicon Valley and then general manager at one of them.

Eventually, Erica would become the first African American to serve as general manager for a big convention hotel in the Marriott portfolio – the Atlanta Marriott Marquis. The Marquis is Georgia’s largest hotel with 1,663 rooms and is the third largest Marriott convention property in the U.S. I still remember the first time I met Erica and the impression that came over me. The blend of business savvy, leadership presence and genuine human connection is immediately apparent.

It is no wonder that Erica didn’t stop there. Today, she is the area general manager for Atlanta, supporting downtown, mid-town, and airport hotels as well as the Marquis.

Erica is the embodiment of Dave Sampson’s vision that embracing diversity is good for business. Under her leadership, the Atlanta Marriott Marquis – for the first time ever – was named Hotel of the Year among Marriott hotels in 2017. It was named Sales Leader of the Year among Marriott hotels in 2008, bringing in the highest revenues. Its occupancy level was 85 percent in 2019 (before COVID) up from an average of 66 percent before Erica arrived.

Perhaps most tellingly, Erica was named among the Top 100 Most Influential Atlantans in 2020. That’s a huge honor and an incredible recognition of her talents and leadership.

Erica has hired, developed, and promoted hundreds of associates of every race throughout her career. She has played an invaluable role in helping us to modernize the way we approach mentorship in the hospitality industry – not just at Marriott — using coaching and other techniques. She continues to educate and inspire hoteliers, who have gone on to become hotel owners, general managers, sales leaders and other senior executives.

Erica credits her success to her mentors and a company culture that welcomes all.

That may be true, but I know another truth – we are so fortunate she came to us with her talents.

I thank Erica and Dave for their contributions. Each has inspired us while paving the path of inclusive opportunity and our TakeCare culture. Given the state of the world today, we know that our work at Marriott – and as a nation – is not done. We must continue to address inequality and hold ourselves accountable through implementing our action plan to fight against racism and advance inclusion, equity and justice.

As we celebrate Black history today and every day, I know our commitment to embracing differences will propel our future success.


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