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Leadership

Bill Marriott to step away from his family's namesake lodging empire after 58 years

Upon his retirement in May, the son of founders Allie and Willard Marriott will relinquish his chairman's title to his son, David.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Lodging icon J.W. “Bill” Marriott will retire in May after leading the Marriott hotel and restaurant empire for 58 years, the company announced Monday.

Marriott, who will turn 90 on March 25, will be succeeded in his current role as Marriott International chairman by his son, David Marriott. The younger Marriott was elected to the lodging giant’s board last March in anticipation of succeeding his father.

The elder Marriott will hold the ceremonial title of chairman emeritus.

The changeover marks the end of a leadership era for Marriott International, whose roots extend back to an A&W root beer stand that opened in Washington, D.C., in 1927.

The shop was opened by Bill Marriott’s mother and father, Utah transplants Allie and J.W. “Willard,” an entrepreneurial couple who figured frosted mugs of root beer would sell well during hot, muggy summers in the nation’s capital. They added a menu of Tex-Mex items, drawing on what they’d eaten in the Southwest, to provide a wintertime draw and boost the typical transaction. A mug of root beer sold for a nickel.  

Richard “Dick” Marriott, Bill’s younger brother, recalled in a 2019 interview that his job was to rinse any spilled root beer off the nickels before his mother deposited them in the bank.

The Marriott family’s restaurant empire grew quickly as the operation embraced a new concept called Hot Shoppes, a cross between a soda fountain and what’s now known as a family-dining operation. With the price of autos dropping to a level middle-class Americans could afford, Hot Shoppes served a suddenly mobile population. 

The company added a more contemporary brand, the Big Boy family-dining chain, in 1967.

The Marriotts did not diversify into hotels until 1957, with Bill Marriott leading the move. His father was apprehensive about the new direction because of the capital that had to be borrowed to develop a property. But the younger man prevailed, and Marriott quickly became a major force in the lodging business.

It did not exit the foodservice business until the 1980s. Its last big restaurant move was the acquisition of the Howard Johnson family-dining chain and a number of its competitors. The company intended to convert the restaurants into a buffet chain called Allie’s, but the idea never got traction. By that time, it also had the Roy Rogers quick-service roast beef chain, which was sold to Hardee’s.

It also was a major player in the travel concessions business through HMS Host, a contract services giant that was eventually spun off.

Bill Marriott was named president of the corporation in 1964 and CEO in 1972. He would remain in the top job for 40 years, ceding the post in 2012. He added the title of chairman in 1985.

David Marriott joined the family business in 1999. He held a variety of operational and sales roles before becoming president of Marriott’s domestic operating company, with responsibility for 330 hotels operating under 14 brands in 34 states.

He also oversaw Marriott’s 2016 acquisition of Starwood Hotels, one of the biggest deals the hotel industry had ever seen. It made Marriott the largest lodging company in the world by far. Today its operations extend to 8,000 properties operating under 30 brand names in 139 countries.

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