Marriott, J. Willard

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Marriott, J. Willard

Marriott International, Inc.


During the course of a career that spanned nearly 50 years, J. Willard Marriott parlayed a nine-stool root beer stand into a $3 billion food and lodging empire.

Personal Life

J. Willard Marriott was born on September 17, 1900, in Marriott, Utah. The town was established in 1847 by Marriott's Mormon great-grandfather, John Marriott. The second of eight children, J. Willard, known as Bill, grew up on a sheep and cattle ranch owned by his father and mother, Hyrum and Ellen Marriott. By the time he was 20 years old, Bill had fulfilled a two-year Mormon missionary obligation. In 1922, Marriott graduated from Weber State College in Ogden, Utah, and then transferred to the University of Utah, where he received a BA degree in 1926. After graduation, he taught English at Weber State College, and also worked as the school's treasurer and theater manager.

In 1927, after Bill married Alice Sheets, the newlyweds headed east and bought an A&W root beer franchise for $6000. During Marriott's last year of college, an A&W root beer stand had opened in Salt Lake City near the University of Utah campus, and he had been impressed with how rapidly it had drawn in customers. He decided to try one in Washington, D.C., a hot and humid place where he thought people would enjoy a cold root beer. Together, the young couple built a base of happy customers, then added additional outlets. The Marriotts' first son, J. Willard, Jr., was born in 1932; their second son, Richard Edwin, was born in 1939. Both sons entered the family business.

An active Mormon for all of his life, Marriott contributed 10 percent of his income to the church and made generous donations to Brigham Young University and the University of Utah. He served as president of the Washington Stake of the Church of the Latter Day Saints from 1948 until 1957. Marriott was also a loyal supporter of Republican political causes and candidates, among them former presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Gerald R. Ford. Marriott served as chairman of both of President Richard Nixon's inaugural committees.

At the time of his death in 1985 at the age of 84, Marriott's original $6000 investment had grown into a conglomerate whose 140,000 employees operated 143 hotels and resorts, 1,400 restaurants, and 90 flight kitchens serving more than 150 airlines worldwide. President Ronald Reagan eulogized Marriott as "a living example of the American dream." Total sales that year were $3.5 billion.

Career Details

J. Willard and Alice Marriott were newlyweds, recently transplanted from Utah, when they opened an A&W root beer stand in Washington, D.C., in 1927. They quickly noticed that soft drinks sold well during Washington's long, hot summer, but that business needed a boost during the cooler months. For this reason, they added barbecued beef sandwiches, tacos, and tamales to the menu and renamed the restaurant "Hot Shoppe." Alice did the cooking, using recipes she had acquired from the nearby Mexican Embassy, and Bill waited on tables. They boosted business by such marketing techniques as giving out free root beer coupons on street corners. In 1929, the restaurant was incorporated as Hot Shoppes, Inc., with three outlets. By 1932, Marriott had seven Hot Shoppes in the Washington area, including one with curbside service.

As Hot Shoppes evolved into a chain of restaurants along the highways from New York to Florida, the Marriotts maintained close family supervision of all facets of the business. For many years Alice served as company bookkeeper while Bill ran the business. In 1933, Marriott, who worked more than 15 hours every day, became gravely ill with a disease of the lymphatic system, but returned to work after a six-month period of recuperation. At this point, he realized that his company would thrive only if he could establish a strong management team. Calling upon his wife, his three brothers, and his two sons, he taught his new managers to run the business using his management strategy.

During this time, Marriott launched a new service that catered boxed lunches to airlines. The idea for this service was prompted by his observation of passengers at a Washington airport carrying food on board from a nearby Hot Shoppe. In-Flite, as it was called, would eventually become the world's largest airline catering business. The restriction on automobile travel during World War II was a setback for the Marriotts, but the postwar economic boom brought renewed prosperity to their food and catering businesses. In 1939, Marriott began serving food at the U.S. Treasury building, and the next year five new Hot Shoppe restaurants opened.

In 1953, Marriott's first offering of stock sold out in less than two hours in an impressive round of confidence in the company. In 1957, another business segment made its debut when Marriott's first hotel, the Twin Bridges Marriott Motor Hotel, opened in Arlington, Virginia, on U.S. Route 1, near the Pentagon and Washington National Airport. Bill Sr. had actually purchased the property for a new corporate office. When his executive vice president suggested it would be a perfect site for a hotel, Bill Sr. and Bill Jr. immediately agreed. At that time 125,000 cars were passing by the location on a daily basis, the Pentagon was nearby, and downtown Washington was only about five miles away. Plans for a 365-room hotel were drawn up and on opening day, which coincided with President Eisenhower's second inauguration, the entire family—Alice and Bill, Bill Jr., and Dick—stayed up all night hanging pictures and making sure everything was in perfect order.

As with the first Hot Shoppe, business at the first hotel was great during the spring and summer, but lagged during the rest of the year. To develop a year-round stream of business, the Marriotts developed a marketing plan that targeted commercial businessmen and conventioneers. Until this time lodging options were limited to large inner-city hotels and hundreds of small mom-andpop motels. The Marriotts were able to fill a growing need for large hotels where professionals could congregate for meetings and banquets. The second Marriott hotel opened in 1959 at Key Bridge, also in Arlington, Virginia. The Marriotts always liked to be located next to bridges, figuring that highways may relocate but bridges never move. Every year, new hotels and new restaurants opened.

In 1964, Marriott turned over the presidency of his growing corporation to his son, J. Willard Marriott, Jr. ("Bill"), but he remained actively involved as chief executive officer. Sales and profits had been steadily doubling every five years. Motivated by a desire to accelerate the pace of growth, Bill Jr. concentrated on the lodging segment of the business. Over the next six years, Marriott almost quadrupled in size, surpassing Howard Johnson and Hilton Hotels in both revenues and profits. Marriott's hotels generally catered to upscale travelers and businessmen willing to pay extra for quality.

Marriott became an international company in 1966, when it acquired an airline-catering kitchen in Caracas, Venezuela. In 1967, the 22-unit Big Boy restaurant chain was acquired. Also in 1967, shareholders approved a corporate name change to Marriott Corporation. In 1968 the company started the Roy Rogers, fast-food chain. Convention hotels were built in Boston, New York, and Anaheim, California. As airline travel grew, Marriott began to locate new hotels near airports.

The Marriotts always resisted unionization because they believed that their company would be much more flexible without union rules. They also believed they could offer better benefits to their employees. The company provided health insurance, retirement plans, generous profit sharing, a system of incentive bonuses, and training programs that supported the promote-from-within philosophy. Labor unions' attempts to organize Marriott workers were unsuccessful during Bill Sr.'s lifetime.

In 1972, Marriott transferred the post of chief executive officer to his son, J. Willard Marriott, Jr. Under the leadership of Bill Jr., Marriott entered the middle-priced hotel market, time-sharing in resort areas, and the luxury all-suite market, targeting extended-stay travelers. In the crowded, competitive lodging market, Marriott's occupancy rates continued to be about 12 percent over the industry average.

Social and Economic Impact

Besides leaving a $3 billion business to his son, J. Willard Marriott passed on a rock-solid management system. His perfectionism led him to create detailed procedural manuals for all tasks within his empire. Bill Jr. described his father's methods in his book The Spirit to Serve: "Almost from the start, my parents especially my father, launched the process of figuring out how to do something right and then writing it down. From washing windows to burnishing silverware, to arranging buffet tables and processing customers' checks, no aspect of the workplace went untouched by my dad's penchant for systemization." Although the systems developed for the restaurants did not transfer to the hotel business, the method of systemization did. Bill Sr.'s 66 separate steps for cleaning a hotel room in less than half an hour is a sterling example of his attention to detail. Clear instructions like this helped Marriott employees deliver consistently superior service. This, in turn, gave customers confidence in the brand name.

Chronology: J. Willard Marriott

1900: Born in Marriott, Utah.

1926: Graduated from University of Utah.

1927: Married Alice Sheets; bought an A&W root beer franchise.

1929: Incorporated as Hot Shoppes, Inc.

1937: Began In-Flite catering service to airlines.

1953: Sold out first offering of stock to investors in less than two hours.

1957: Opened first hotel in Arlington, Virginia.

1964: Named son, J. Willard Marriott, Jr., company president.

1972: Retired.

1985: Died.

Another key to Marriott's success was the ability to change. After a few unsuccessful attempts to expand through diversification, the Marriotts realized that their enthusiasm for innovation was far ahead of their ability to analyze possibilities and manage change. Bill Jr. describes this phase in Marriott's development as very common among successful businesses: "acquiring for the sake of acquiring, launching new enterprises simply because they've got the money to give them a whirl." When they realized they had fallen into this trap, they set up a strategic-planning department to analyze the possibilities. The result was two new businesses that were logical outgrowths of what Marriott's did extremely well: distribution services and facilities management services. The next logical step was diversification within the lodging industry. The company introduced moderate-priced lodging with the Courtyard by Marriott, and economy-priced lodging with the Fairfield Inn. Senior living services and time-shared vacation lodging were also logical extensions of businesses in which Marriott already excelled. Bill Jr. is fond of recalling how one Marriott director was able to summarize the basic truth learned through the years of diversification: "'No tree grows to the sky,' he used to say, a warning that even the healthiest growth cannot go on forever. Nor can it continue at the fast pace that marks a sapling's first few years. But by splitting the company into pieces — pruning and transplanting, if you will — we had given ourselves new room to grow." In 1997, when Bill Jr.'s book was published, Marriott's was the thirteenth largest employer in the United States, with 225,000 employees.

Sources of Information

Contact at: Marriott International, Inc.
10400 Fernwood Rd.
Bethesda, MD 20817
Business Phone: (301)380-3000


"J. Willard Marriott." Contemporary Newsmakers. Detroit: Gale Research, 1986.

"J(ohn) Willard Marriott." Current Biography Yearbook. New York: H. W. Wilson Co., 1972.

Kepos, Paula, ed. "Marriott Corporation." International Directory of Company Histories. Detroit: St. James Press, 1991.

Marriott, John Willard Jr., and Kathi Ann Brown. The Spirit to Serve: Marriott's Way. New York: HarperBusiness, 1997.

O'Brien, Robert. The J. Willard Marriott Story. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret, 1977.

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Marriott, J. Willard

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