by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | July 01, 2008

Leading the charge: Bill (left) and David MarriottAt age 76, J.W. Marriott Jr. (aka Bill Marriott) remains at the top of his game in the hospitality business. In the past year alone, Marriott’s $15 billion, Bethesda, Md.-based hotel company wrapped up a $3 billion overhaul of its Renaissance brand; forged an unexpected alliance with lodging guru Ian Schrager and unveiled a boutique brand concept called Edition; aggressively extended its limited-service brands into Europe and its full-service brands into Asia; and unleashed a bevy of environmentally friendly programs.

This March found Bill Marriott and his son, David, 34, regional vice president, marketing management, Eastern region, and heir apparent, together at the JW Marriott Camelback Inn in Scottsdale, Ariz., to celebrate Bill’s birthday with the extended Marriott clan. The two took time to chat with M&C’s hotel editor, Cheryl-Anne Sturken, about the company’s recent accomplishments and to share a glimpse of what lies ahead for the chain.

M&C: Five years ago, you seemed noncommittal when I asked if you would ever consider adding a boutique brand. What changed to make Edition happen?

Bill Marriott: The timing is right, and we have the right partner. Ian Shrager is the godfather of the boutique business. Edition is going to have the energy and style that appeals to a whole different customer. We plan on going head-to-head with Starwood’s W brand. The first opens in Los Angeles in 2010, and we are looking at Paris, South Beach in Miami and about 10 more.

M&C: How have you repositioned the
Renaissance brand?

David Marriott: Renaissance used to be all over the board. There was no consistency, so planners didn’t know what to expect from hotel to hotel. That needed to be fixed. This is a brand that relies heavily on group business -- up to 50 percent of Renaissance revenue is from groups. Now, it has a strong brand voice and great positioning.

M&C: Ritz-Carlton is another brand whose image has been tweaked. How so?

Bill: For one thing, we’ve taken down off the walls all the boring pictures of people no one knows, and we’ve incorporated more youthful designs to appeal to a changing customer base. On any night, our Washington, D.C., hotel is humming with locals. But make no mistake, this is still very much a luxury brand. Walk into any Ritz-Carlton and you’ll get the same level of service.

M&C: How and why did you restructure your sales force?

David: I spent three years working on SalesForce One, which is a new staffing model for us. It shifts salespeople out of the hotels and into regional sales offices. The client now has one point of contact, selling across all brands. There still will be on-site salespeople at our largest convention hotels. But SalesForce One has created a powerful selling culture. Before, we had people chasing down the same accounts, and there was tremendous overlap. Now, they are deployed into developing new business. By year-end 2009, we will be reaching 10 times more customers, and we will have 12 or 13 regional offices.

M&C: What is Marriott’s global expansion strategy?

David: Half of the new hotels coming online are outside of the United States, particularly in Asia, Europe, Latin America. A big part of that expansion is in our limited-service category; we have modified that brand for aggressive growth in those markets.

M&C: Any other priorities?

David: The environment. Social responsibility is very important; it has grown to epic proportions. At our annual top association client event for about 200 [held in May], the entire meeting will be green. Not only will that event give us a chance to showcase the initiatives we have taken as a company in this area, such as organic centerpieces and recycling, it hopefully will give our clients some ideas they can incorporate into their own events.

M&C: David, your father is an industry icon, well known for his hands-on management style. What’s your style, and what mark do you want to make on Marriott?

David: I try not to look too far out. I prefer to concentrate on doing a good job with my current responsibilities. When I took on SalesForce One, I asked myself, where can we most improve what we provide to our customers? I am so inspired by what we’ve achieved, and I aim to stay inspired.

Marriott's Milestones:

J. Willard Marriott opens a nine-stool A&W Root Beer stand in Washington, D.C.

Marriott opens its first property, the 365-room Twin Bridges Motor Hotel in Arlington, Va.

J.W. Marriott Jr. is named president of the company

First international hotel opens in Acapulco, Mexico

First hotel-management contracts are inked

First European hotel opens, in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Corporate headquarters is built in Bethesda, Md.

First Courtyard by Marriott opens in Atlanta

First JW Marriott opens in Washington, D.C.

Residence Inn is acquired and Fairfield Inn launched

Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities is established

Pathways to Independence, a welfare-to-work program, is established

Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. is acquired

TownePlace Suites, Fairfield Suites and Marriott Executive Residence launched

Chain reaches milestones of 2,300 hotels and 200,000 employees

Ramada International is sold

All Marriott properties in the United States and Canada become smoke-free

Company partners with Ian Schrager and announces creation of new boutique brand, Edition