01/28/2014 02:03 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Hire Friendly, Train Technical


I recently had the pleasure of speaking at the University of Delaware's Hospitality School. They were a smart bunch of students, but more importantly, all of them smiled. That's the type of person we hire at Marriott. I always say it's best to hire friendly and train technical. You can train an intelligent person but you can't teach a person to be friendly and to smile. It's got to be part of their inherent personality.

When I'm looking to hire, I want someone smarter than me. I'm rarely looking for the person with the most experience. Many times, our best hires come from other fields. Prior to joining Marriott in 1996, Arne Sorenson was a lawyer specializing in mergers and acquisitions.

I remember being impressed with how he explained complex financial details in a simple way so even I could understand them. He accepted my job offer even though that wasn't his original career path and he was off to the races - head of Europe, CFO and now leading Marriott as president & CEO. And, yes, Arne has a great smile.

Another person I pursued is the head of our Global Communications and Public Affairs department, Kathleen Matthews. Kathleen came to Marriott from TV news. She was a news anchor and award-winning journalist in Washington, DC. I saw another side of her. She's passionate about public policy and international human rights. Kathleen has not only positioned Marriott in new and exciting ways, but she was key in getting a deal signed in Haiti. She has an unbelievable Rolodex (are they in use any more?) calling top elected officials and diplomats. She even talked me into blogging. And Kathleen smiles.

There's no magic wand in selecting top talent, but I do notice how prospective hires treat others. Does a high-level executive have good manners and treat the busboy as he would want to be treated. I don't play golf, but I've heard the golf course is a good place to get to know someone. A yelling, club-thrower wouldn't make the cut at most firms.

Developing a compatible leadership team is the most important job of the CEO. You need the right personalities. Our large hotels are mini-cities with lots of moving parts. The General Manager sets the tone and most of our GM's come up through the hourly worker ranks. They understand how things get done and the important mesh of personalities required.

"Hire friendly, train technical" is the most important mantra in our HR manual. I want passionate associates who go the extra difference to help a guest. I want associates whose enthusiasm for their hometown rubs off on guests. Guests know the difference between a forced smile and a genuine one.

So, my message for college students looking for a career in hospitality: do you have what it takes to make it in this industry? Do you have a smile? Is it genuine?

I'm Bill Marriott and thanks for helping me keep Marriott on the Move.

This post first appeared on