10/14/2014 10:16 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Into the Details


When my father asked our Board of Directors to elect me president of our company in 1964, he wrote me a very thoughtful letter describing how I should develop my management style to be an effective executive.

In a recent interview, I was asked, which item on my father's list was the most difficult for me to follow? I replied that at a young age, I was advised, "not get into the details" and effectively delegate to others. As I thought about this, I realized that my father's attention to detail had made our company successful. He spent at least half of his time in his restaurants checking on every detail. He inspected clean kitchens, dining room, servers in proper uniforms and much, much more. He insisted on attractive plants and shrubbery. In short, he really was into the details.

Throughout my almost 60 years in the business, I have visited between 200-300 hotels per year. The peak was 320 the year before I handed the CEO reins over to Arne Sorenson.

I ignored my Dad's advice on getting into the details but followed his example of visiting the operations as often as I could. As I look back on all those visits, I know it was the right thing to do. I always learned something on every visit. I would write down my findings on little white index cards I carried in my pocket. I also visited our competitor's hotels as often as possible and learned a lot from them. Thus, when it became time to select a site for a new hotel, I was confident in the type of hotel that would work in a particular location. And when I was asked to review the drawings and design for a new property, I had a sense for how to make the hotel more efficient and customer-friendly.

My visits through the years have given me a knowledge base that has helped me make the big decisions I needed to make from the home office. Years ago, business professors would often state that if you have executive skills, you can run any business. I never agreed with this and remain an advocate that the more you know about your particular business, the more successful you'll become. So my advice is to get out of the office; learn how the business works; and think about how you can continuously improve it to make it better for our customers. If you do this, then, you will be successful.

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

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