Marriott’s thirst for success

1.1 million rooms. 110 countries. More than 30 brands. 90 years.

On their own, these figures are almost sufficient to tell the story of the Marriott International brand. To imagine that such a nondescript place, tucked away in Washington, D.C., has weaved this brand is difficult, if not to say unfathomable. After the 90-year-long journey of mergers and acquisitions, Marriott International today is the world’s largest hotel company.


John had arrived in Washington, D.C. to preach the Gospel at the end of his two-year mission for the Mormon Church. The oppressive heat and humidity of a D.C. summer made him think of a business idea: to sell some cold drinks. However, he realized that to create a solid future for himself would require an education. He returned home to Utah to pursue a college degree, working odd jobs to pay his way through, including a regular summer stint selling woolen underwear to lumberjacks in the Pacific Northwest.

But he didn’t forget about a different summer in a very different place.

You probably know John better as J. Willard Marriott. He secured the A&W franchise for Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Richmond, and with partner Hugh Colton pooled $6,000 to buy equipment and rent space for their tiny operation. On May 20, 1927, the two opened their nine-stool root beer stand at 3128 14th Street, NW. Marriott returned to Utah just two weeks later to marry Alice Sheets and bring her back to D.C. to start their new life together.

However, once the winter set in, the sales fell flat.

Realizing the seasonal nature of the product, and without wasting any time, John added food service to his establishment. Overnight, the A&W barrel had been replaced with a prefabricated glass front bearing their new name “Hot Shoppe,"

Hot Shoppe sign with JWM Sr

and he started selling Southwestern and Mexican foods such as spicy BBQ, chili, and tamales. In 1953, when the first stock of Hot Shoppes went public, it sold out within two hours of opening. By 1960, there were 70 Hot Shoppes in D.C. with such iconic items as the Mighty Moe Burger, Teen Twist, Orange Freeze, and Hot Fudge Sundaes.

And then the genius of J. Willard Marriott recognized a special opportunity at Hot Shoppes Number 8, near the Hoover International Airport. He made a deal with the airlines to serve in-flight food by providing customized boxed lunches.

Twin Bridges Opening

In 1957, Marriott acquired the Twin Bridges Motor hotel, which later came to be known as Twin Bridges Marriott. What remained constant during this entire journey was John and Alice’s commitment to hospitality and service, still a hallmark of the family’s brand today. While the last of the Hot Shoppes closed down in 1999, the Marriott hotels only got stronger with every passing decade.

In 1972, John’s son, J. W. “Bill” Marriott, Jr., took over as CEO. He oversaw the company’s modern-day hotel expansion. Bill also made the key decision in 1992 to split the company, separating the hotel management operations from the ownership and real estate operations.


Marriott has always been a trendsetter of sorts, and the latest acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., only validates that. After the global acquisition of Starwood, Marriott subsequently acquired Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces. This historic merger has cemented Marriott’s place as a trendsetter in the hospitality industry.

Because travelers have different needs, Marriott offers everything from limited service to full-service luxury hotels. The company manages and franchises hotels and resorts under the brands of Bulgari Hotels and Resorts, The Ritz-Carlton, St. Regis, W, Edition, JW Marriott, The Luxury Collection, Autograph Collection, Moxy, Protea, Aloft, AC Hotels, Renaissance, Residence Inn, Courtyard, Towne Place Suites, Fairfield Inn, and SpringHill Suites. It develops and operates vacation ownership resorts under the Marriott Vacation Club, The Ritz-Carlton Destination Club, and Grand Residences by Marriott brands.

Along with this, it licenses and manages whole-ownership residential brands, including The Ritz-Carlton Residences, JW Marriott Residences, and Marriott Residences. It operates Marriott Executive Apartments and provides furnished corporate housing through its Marriott ExecuStay division.

Starwood Hotels and Resorts

The company’s reputation for superior customer service rises out of a long tradition that started with J. Willard Marriott’s philosophy:

Take good care of your employees and they’ll take good care of your customers, and the customers will come back.

J. W. “Bill” Marriott, Jr., writes in the blog Marriott on the Move,

When my father started his business in 1927, he had one original goal: good food and good service at a fair price. He staked his reputation on superior customer service. Not much has changed today. Our dedication to the customer is apparent in everything we do… right down to the last detail.

Not only does this philosophy extend to the guests, the company ensures that the same holds true for its employees, too. Marriott is named on Fortune’s lists of most admired companies, best places to work, and top companies for diversity. Since its very first days, the brand has ensured that all “associates” (as the employees are known) are well taken care of. Today the company offers such benefits as flexible scheduling, employee discounts across the globe, healthcare for workers who put in 30 hours a week, among many others. And the extra perks are especially motivating. Associates who have served 25 years or more get free weekend hotel stays for life! Today the brand has a global workforce in excess of 3,00,000 in more than 5,500 hotels across the globe.

And there’s no sign of slowing. Speaking recently during the International Hotel Investment Forum in Berlin, Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson told Reuters that his company is expecting to open a new hotel “on average, every 15 hours in 2017.”

Marriott alll Logos


Images courtesy: Marriott Archives

By Dhwani Pathak Dave