“The price of success is a hard workout—not just 8 hours 5 days a week, but nearly all our waking hours. At least that has been my experience. When I started, it was about six and a half days and nights for many years. It paid off.”
John Willard Marriott, Sr. (September 17, 1900 – August 13, 1985) was an American entrepreneur and businessman. He was the founder of the Marriott Corporation (which became Marriott International in 1993), the parent company of one of the world’s largest hospitality, hotel chains, and food services companies. The Marriott company rose from a small root beer stand in Washington D.C. in 1927 to a chain of family restaurants by 1932, to its first motel in 1957. By the time he died, the Marriott company operated 1,400 restaurants and 143 hotels and resorts worldwide, including two theme parks, earned USD $4.5 billion in revenue annually with 154,600 employees. The company’s interests even extended to a line of cruise ships.
Marriott was born at Marriott Settlement near Ogden, Utah, and was raised on his father’s farm. His father gave him considerable responsibility at an early age: he was sent to San Francisco on his own with 3,000 sheep in railcars at the age of 13.
At the age of 19 and as a devout Mormon, he undertook the traditional missionary work of the church for two years, being assigned to New England. On his way home after completing his mission, he passed throughWashington D.C. during the sweltering summer months of 1921. While there:
- “… [H]e walked from Capitol Hill to the Washington Monument, toiled up the steps to the top, walked back down again, and strolled over to the Lincoln Memorial. Everywhere he went tourists and pedestrians sweltered and sweated in the sultry, humid air. On the way back to his hotel, he just stood there in the street watching the crowds, he couldn’t get over it: a push cart peddler would come along the street selling lemonade and soda pop and ice cream, and in minutes he would be cleaned out and on his way to stock up with another cartload”.
Marriott graduated from Weber State University, where he served as student body president, with an associate’s degree in June 1923 and from the University of Utah with a bachelor’s degree in June 1926. Marriott affiliated with the Phi Delta Theta social fraternity at the University of Utah (the fraternity currently publishes his graduation year incorrectly as 1925) and the Alpha Kappa Psi professional fraternity. After Marriott earned his bachelor’s degree, the president of Weber, Aaron Tracy, who had assisted Marriott to enroll there by helping him make up secondary education credits missed due to the Marriott family’s ranching efforts, employed him at the school in Ogden. Marriott soon felt the urge, however, to be his own boss. He heard about a cousin’s A&W Root Beer franchise and, remembering his experience seeing so many people suffer through the brutal summer heat of Washington, D.C., he decided to look into a venture there.
In 1927, he secured from A&W Root Beer the franchise rights for Washington, D.C.; Baltimore, Maryland; and Richmond, Virginia; he then moved to Washington to open a nine-stool root beer stand there with his business partner, Hugh Colton. They opened on May 20, 1927 at 3128 14th Street, NW. He returned to Utah two weeks later, and married Alice Sheets on 9 June 1927. With the approach of cooler Autumn months, and with the addition of Mexican food items to the menu, the stand became The Hot Shoppe, a popular family restaurant. In 1928, he opened the first drive-in east of the Mississippi, and the business was incorporated as Hot Shoppes, Inc. in Delaware in 1929. During the Second World War, the business expanded to include the management of food services in defense plants and government buildings, such as the U.S. Treasury.
Marriott’s restaurant chain grew, and the company went public in 1953. In 1957, he expanded his business to hotels, opening the first Marriott hotel—actually a motel, the Twin Bridges Motor Hotel in Arlington, Virginia. The company became Marriott, Inc. in 1967. Two large chains were added to the group, the Big Boy family restaurants in 1967 and Roy Rogers Family Restaurants in 1968.
Over the years, Marriott’s company interests expanded. Continuing with food services, Marriott eventually invented airline in-flight food service. This segment of their enterprise continues to be a large part of their business, providing food services to many major airlines. Marriott also provides food services to many colleges, elementary schools and other venues.
Marriott was an energetic worker and rarely rested, preferring to run his company. Many attested to the fact that he ate, lived, breathed and dreamed about how to run and improve his company:
- “His managers never knew what time of day or night he’d show up at the kitchen door and go bird-dogging almost at a half-run through the kitchen, the pantries, the storage rooms, the refrigerators, the restaurant itself, running a finger over the shelves to check for dust, checking under tables and in cutlery drawers, checking the ranges, the storage rooms, the trays about to be served, sampling the root beer, and raising hell if everything wasn’t spotless, neat, clean, bright, polished, done efficiently, done well.”
Even after the company grew to include hundreds of restaurants and hotels, Marriott vowed to personally inspect every establishment at least four times a year.
Marriott tempered his rigid demands for perfection with devotion to his employees. According to his son, Bill Jr.,:
- “In establishing the culture of the company, there was a lot of attention and tender loving care paid to the hourly workers. When they were sick, he went to see them. When they were in trouble, he got them out of trouble. He created a family loyalty.”
According to Marriott himself (from a videotaped segment):
- “You’ve got to make your employees happy. If the employees are happy, they are going to make the customers happy.”
Marriott’s wife, Alice Sheets, was actively involved in the business, starting as the bookkeeper at the root-beer stand. Despite the demands of the company, she felt her role as a mother to her two sons was her most important calling and balanced the demands of both of her endeavors.
Marriott and his wife had two sons. Their son Bill Marriott, Jr. is currently Executive Chairman and Chairman of the Board of Marriott International. The other son is Richard Marriott, Chairman of the board for Host Hotels & Resorts, formerly Host Marriott Corporation.
Marriott’s legacy continues today through the continuance of the company he founded and through his community involvement and philanthropy. Marriott was a faithful member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and sought to share the church’s teachings with others by placing a copy of the Book of Mormon in each hotel room, alongside a copy of a Gideon Bible—a tradition that has endured. He also donated funds to the church’s flagship tertiary educational institution, Brigham Young University, resulting in the naming of the university’s 22,700-seat multi-purpose arena (Marriott Center) in his honor. While serving as home to the BYU Cougars men’s and women’s college basketball teams, the center also hosts various cultural events and religious devotionals. Also at BYU, the university’s business school, the Marriott School of Management, is named in honor of Marriott. On the campuses of Marriott’s alma maters stands the J. Willard Marriott Library at the University of Utah and the Marriott Allied Health Building at Weber State University which houses the Dumke College of Heath Professions.