The Tradition Continues
September 1 1988 by JP Donlon
Last July our readers’ wishes were realized when CE officially inaugurated Bill Marriott of the Marriott Corporation as 1988′s Chief Executive of the Year. Many of you who could not attend the gala dinner at New York’s Metropolitan Club wrote graciously that you thought the choice of Marriott was highly appropriate and perhaps overdue.
In accepting the honor, Bill, in his naturally self-effacing way, declared that it was a humbling, yet exciting, experience for him to be recognized by his peers. “I wish my father were here,” he said. (Marriot Sr. died in 1985.) “He would not have believed this. I wish my mother were here. Her health would not permit her to travel. She would agree that it should have happened 10 years ago!” Outgoing 1987 Chief Executive of the Year Chuck Knight of Emerson Electric joked with Bill about it being “a lot more fun on my side of the podium.” (By tradition, last year’s recipient participates in the celebration of the new winner by delivering the accolade on behalf of the six judges, of whom he is the honorary chairman. Next year Bill Marriott will figuratively pass the baton in the same way.)
“I would only like to warn Bill, as he sits through the process next year,” said Knight, “that the one thought going through your mind will be, how did I ever get here. It’s a humbling process to reflect what your predecessors and selecting peers have accomplished, and then think, I wonder what was said about me last year?”
Adding to the lustre of the evening were proclamations from Marriott’s home state of Maryland and a personal letter from President Ronald Reagan, who, as most of Bill’s friends who attended the dinner know, is a personal friend.
This isn’t the first time Marriott has been chosen to be honored. In fact, CE managing director Arnold Pollard related a story illustrating the lengths to which Marriott Sr. went to avoid family favoritism in his own succession decision. Former AMA president Jim Hayes was the first to identify Bill as the logical successor to his father. The elder Marriott had invited Hayes’ counsel on the question and Hayes said the answer was obvious. “Who?” Marriott Sr. responded incredulously, “that fellow running the lodging business? You can’t mean my son. He’s too young, too inexperienced, too..” “Well, if you want a second opinion,” Hayes replied, “ask the top three management consulting firms to do a study. I’ll give you their names.”
Two months later Hayes received a long-distance telephone call from an irritated Bill Marriott Sr., who complained: “Jim, I could have saved $25,000. Booz, Allen just told me the same thing you did.” Hyatt Hotels’ Pat Foley has been telling us Marriott was the obvious choice since CE created the award. OK Pat, so you were right!