The Biography of Bill Marriott a Global Hotel Icon

A portrait of Bill Marriott with a Marriott hotel.

The Life Story of Bill Marriott

In his book, Bill Marriott: Success Is Never Final, Marriott informs readers how he views life and success.

He provides an account of his childhood under his strict domineering father, how he joined and innovated the family hotel business, and how he balanced being a CEO, father, husband, and Christian.

Born into a family of entrepreneurs, Bill Marriott obtained his business acumen by working and managing the family restaurant business.

He later acquired the company and transformed it into one of the largest lodging companies in the world.

Marriott has expanded Marriott’s portfolio to include more than 30 brands and over 7,300 properties in 134 countries and territories.

Early Life and Education

John Willard “Bill” Marriott Jr. was born on March 25th, 1932, as the eldest son of J. Willard Marriott and Alice S. Marriott.

His father was a renowned entrepreneur and restaurant owner in Washington. He was the founder of Marriott International, a company that young Marriott acquired and turned into the success it is today.

“Great companies are built by people who never stop thinking about ways to improve the business.” – Bill Marriott

Marriott attended St. Albans School and Sidwell Friends School for his elementary and high school studies.

He later went to the University of Utah to study for a bachelor of science degree in banking and finance.

Marriott became a Sigma Chi fraternity member on campus. While studying there, he also met his wife, Donna Garff, the daughter of a professor.

Upon graduation in 1954, Marriott joined the United States Army at the Navy training school in Georgia.

He served as the wardroom mess officer for the Navy Supply Corps from 1954 to 1956. While in the Navy, he proposed to Donna Garff.

Career at Marriott International

Bill Marriott joined his father in running the family restaurant business in 1956. In just eight months, he got promoted to manage the Twin Bridges Motor Hotel, the family’s first hotel.

In 1959, Bill became vice president of hotel operations. That year, company sales totaled $46 million, about double the amount in 1955.

“When we decide to embark in the service of God, great things begin to happen in our life and the lives of people around us. We learn of Him. We come unto Him.” – Bill Marriott

Marriott was elected vice president of the Marriott Corporation and board member in 1964. Ten months later, still in 1964, he became president of the Marriott Corporation.

Marriott persuaded his father to take on debt in order to achieve growth.

As a result, Marriott International acquired an airline catering kitchen in Venezuela, which helped it expand internationally in the following three years.

The company also broadened its restaurant operations by adding the Big Boy restaurant chain and the Roy Rogers fast-food division to its portfolio.

Marriott took over as CEO after his father in 1972. The company continued to expand by acquiring other businesses and creating new lodging brands.

In 1983, the company introduced Courtyard by Marriott as its second lodging brand. The following year, Marriott joined the vacation timeshare industry.

“Motivate them, train them, care about them, and make winners out of them. We know if we treat our employees right, they’ll treat the customers right. And if customers are treated right, they’ll come back.” – Bill Marriott

Marriott’s father passed away in 1985, during which Bill Marriott became chairman of the Marriott Corporation.

During his tenure as chairman, Marriott Corporation underwent restructuring, moving away from the restaurant business to focus on lodging, senior living, and contract services.

The company split into two separate entities in 1993, Marriott International and Host Marriott Corporation.

Host Marriott Corporation further separated its services into airport concessions and real estate. Marriott International acquired the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, thus expanding its market share in the US lodging industry.

The company today has approximately 140,000 staff, more than 8,000 lodging properties, and operations in 131 countries and territories.

Bill Marriott follows his father’s business philosophy of treating employees well, giving good quality at a fair price, and providing the customer with the best service.

He spent over 150 days a year visiting his lodging properties and talking with managers and employers.

“A wise man ought always to follow the paths beaten by great men, and to imitate those who have been supreme, so that if his ability does not equal theirs, at least it will savour of it.”- Bill Marriott

He flew about 150,000 miles annually in order to maintain close contact with his managers and employees.

Marriott advocates staying in touch with what’s happening in your business and never stopping to strive for success.

In March 2012, Marriott took on the position of executive chairman in the company and transferred the role of chief executive officer to Arne Sorenson.

Philanthropy and Community Service

Besides his role in Marriott International, Bill Marriott is also involved in many philanthropic endeavors and actively participates in community service. He serves as a board member for numerous charitable organizations. Some include:

  • US Travel and Tourism Advisory Board
  • Mayo Clinic Capital Campaign
  • President’s Export Council
  • World Travel and Tourism Council
  • National Business Council

Because of his substantial impact on the lodging industry and the community, Marriott was granted the inaugural Icon of the Industry Award by the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration.

This recognition celebrates his lifetime of leadership within the hospitality industry and his remarkable philanthropic and civic achievements.

Lessons Learned

Here are a couple of lessons we can pick from Bill Marriott’s life story:

  • Balance Work and Life

As the CEO and chairman of a global lodging corporation, Marriott clearly led a busy work life. However, he always made time for his family and church.

As entrepreneurs, one lesson we can learn from him is balancing work and personal life.

  • Stay in Touch With Your Company

Marriott believes in staying connected with one’s business and consistently seeking success.

He frequently visited his lodging properties, spending over 150 days per year conversing with managers and employees.

Marriott emphasizes the value of remaining aware of current developments within one’s business and continuing to work towards achieving growth and success.

Family Life and Relationships

“Our small acts of faith and service are how most of us can continue in God and eventually bring eternal light and glory to our family, our friends, and our associates.” – Bill Marriott

Bill Marriott has been married to his wife, Donna Garff, since 1959. They have four children together: Debbie, David, John, and Stephen.

Bill and Donna also have 15 grandchildren as well as 29 great-grandchildren. The Marriott family is known for their close relationships and commitment to family values.

Bill Marriott has emphasized the importance of spending time with his family and has spoken about how he has tried to balance his work and personal life.

Furthermore, Bill Marriott has often spoken publicly about his family and faith. He is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He credits his faith and his family with providing him guidance and support throughout his life and career and instilling a sense of responsibility to give back to the community.

Honors and Awards

Bill Marriott has received numerous honors and awards throughout his career, recognizing his achievements in the hotel industry and his contributions to his community.

Here are some examples:

  • 1993: Marriott is named CEO of the Year by Chief Executive magazine.
  • 2000: Marriott gets inducted into the Junior Achievement US Business Hall of Fame.
  • 2001: Marriott gets recognized by Michigan State University as the Industry Leader of The Year.
  • 2005: Marriott gets inducted into the Hospitality Industry Hall of Honor.
  • 2006: Marriott receives an honorary doctorate of humanities from Weber State University.
  • 2009: Marriott is awarded the Cornell Icon of the Industry Award by the Cornell School of Hotel Administration.
  • 2016: Marriott gets recognized as Ernst & Young’s Overall Entrepreneur of the year.
  • 2018: Marriott is honored by the National Maritime Historical Society with a Distinguished Service Award.
  • 2019: Marriott gets awarded the International Hotel Investment Forum Lifetime Achievement Award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor for his leadership in the hotel industry and philanthropic work in the United States.

Legacy and Impact on the Hospitality Industry

Bill Marriott is one of the most influential figures in the modern hospitality industry. His legacy is of innovation, leadership, and a deep commitment to providing exceptional customer service and giving back to the community.

Some ways that Bill Marriott has left his mark on the industry include the emphasis on customer service, staying ahead of the curve in innovation and technology, consideration of sustainability and social responsibility practices in his companies, and mentoring and leadership development.

Conclusion

Bill Marriott made a notable impact on the hospitality industry.

He inherited his father’s small restaurant business, transforming it into the world-renowned Marriott International hotel chain.

Bill’s leadership style focuses on putting people first, whether his customers, employees, or shareholders.

Marriott Jr. believes in providing exceptional service, treating employees with respect, and staying true to the core values of honesty, integrity, and excellence.

He remains a visionary leader and role model for many.

“How do we make the Lord’s ways our ways? I believe we begin by learning of Him and praying for understanding.” – Bill Marriott

Timeline.Bill Marriott Timeline

Bill Marriott is born “John Willard “Bill” Marriott Jr.” on March 25th in Washington D.C.


Marriott begins working at his family’s business, Hot Shoppes, a restaurant chain his parents had founded.


Marriott graduates from the University of Utah with a degree in banking and finance.


Marriott attends a Navy training school.


Marriott marries his wife in Salt Lake City, Utah.


Marriott goes to work full-time at the family company.


Marriott becomes the president of the Marriott Corporation.


Marriott becomes CEO of the Marriott Corporation.


Marriott becomes the chairman of the board of the Marriott Corporation.


Marriott retires as CEO of the Marriott Corporation but continues to serve as board chairman.


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Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is Bill Marriott an LDS?

Yes. Bill Marriott is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), also known as the Mormon Church.

2. Is Bill Marriott a billionaire?

Yes, Bill Marriott is a billionaire. According to Forbes’ real-time billionaire tracker, as of March 2023, his net worth is estimated to be $3.7 billion. 

3. What is Bill Marriott’s full name?

Bill Marriott’s full name is John Willard Marriott Jr. He is commonly known as “Bill” and sometimes referred to as “J.W. Marriott Jr.” as well.

4. When and where was Bill Marriott born?

Bill Marriott was born on March 25, 1932, in Washington, D.C., United States.

5. Who were Bill Marriott’s parents?

Bill Marriott’s parents were Alice Sheets Marriott and J. Willard Marriott Sr. J. Willard Marriott was a well-known businessman and entrepreneur who founded the Marriott Corporation, which started as a small root beer stand in Washington, D.C. Alice Marriott was a schoolteacher before she married J. Willard Marriott Sr.

6. What is Bill Marriott’s educational background?

Bill Marriott has an undergraduate degree in banking and finance from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

He then pursued graduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

However, he didn’t complete his degree due to his obligations to the Marriott Corporation.

7. When did Bill Marriott start working for Marriott Corporation?

Bill Marriott began working for the Marriott Corporation, then called Hot Shoppes, in 1951.

He was still a student at the University of Utah and joined the company full-time in 1956 after he graduated from college.

8. How did Bill Marriott contribute to the growth of Marriott International?

Marriott created a leadership position by diversifying the company’s hotel portfolio.

He expanded into new markets and acquired brands like Big Boy and the Ritz-Carlton. He also heavily emphasized excellent customer service in his establishments.

9. When did Bill Marriott become CEO of Marriott International?

Bill Marriott succeeded his father, J. Willard Marriott, as CEO of Marriott International, in 1972.

10. What is Bill Marriott’s management philosophy?

Bill Marriott’s management philosophy is based on putting customers first, empowering employees, leading by example, and focusing on long-term goals.

He believes that if you care for your employees, they will care for your customers.

11. Has Bill Marriott authored any books?

Yes, Bill Marriott has authored and co-authored several books over the years.

Some of the most known ones are Bill Marriott: Success is Never FinalThe Spirit to Serve: Marriott’s Way (1997), and Without Reservations: How a Family Root Beer Stand Grew into a Global Hotel Company (1997).

12. What is Bill Marriott’s family life like?

Bill Marriott has been married to his wife, Donna Garff, since 1959. They have four children.

He has credited his family with providing them with support and encouragement throughout his many years in the hotel industry.

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