Big things have small beginnings, and perhaps no individual’s career embodies this sentiment as aptly as that of Richard E. Marriott.
The name speaks for itself. Marriott International is one of the largest and most well-known hotel companies in the world, with well over 6,000 properties. Yet the company’s origin can be traced all the way back to a root beer stand in Washington, D.C., started by Marriott’s parents John Willard and Alice Sheets in 1927, and later expanded into the popular Hot Shoppes restaurant chain.
Marriott detailed the humble start to his career working in those shops, and gave career insights to a full room of hospitality students and faculty on Oct. 16 in Roosevelt’s Ida B. Wells Lounge.
Marriott, chairman of the board at Host Hotels & Resorts, the world’s largest lodging real estate investment trust, focused on the fundamentals of the industry — it’s not about the product, but the people.
“Our industry depends on people,” Marriott said. “The hospitality industry is a very labor-intensive business. The key to your success in the hotel industry is taking good care of people, your employees and the customer. If you can make them happy, they’ll keep coming back.”
William Host, professor of meetings and event management at Roosevelt, hopes Marriott’s talk will spur the development of a speaker series specifically curated for hospitality and tourism management. Students from two of his classes attended the discussion, and Host was heartened by the prospect of expanding the reach of these events.
“It’s inspiring — it’s a fabulous opportunity for students to see someone who is a pioneer,” Host said. “The ability to bring in major players, significant people and make that available not only to the institution but to the hospitality community as a whole around the city of Chicago, it would certainly brand us as the leader that we are.”
Marriott made for a fitting debut hospitality speaker for Roosevelt, as the University has deep ties with one of the hotel magnate’s most noteworthy charitable initiatives, the Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities. The nonprofit organization maintains a Bridges from School to Work program, which has supported more than 20,000 youth with disabilities, helping to train them to find employment in major markets across the country.
One leadership and organizational course at Roosevelt, taught by hospitality and tourism management department chair Carol Brown, instructs students how to plan and run an annual fundraising event for the benefit of Bridges. As of 2017, Roosevelt had raised more than $100,000 over 11 years of offering the course.
“Our motto in the Bridges program is, ‘Find something you’re good at and that you enjoy doing.’ That goes the same for you,” Marriott told attendees. “The hospitality business is huge — get out there and do some internships, work as many jobs in this business as you can. Find out what you really enjoy doing. If you’re not happy, you won’t be able to make the guests happy.”
Making guests happy is exactly what Executive Master of Hospitality and Tourism Management student Tashi Adams is looking to do. Earning the one-year, fully online degree, Adams seeks to become the general manager of a hotel someday, and found that Marriott’s address was just the extra push she needed to pursue that goal.
“Getting motivation to pursue a career is always valuable — listening to him tell us that we in hospitality are there to serve others, it inspired me to stay on my continued path as I try to elevate my career, which is why I’m earning my master’s,” Adams said. “He reiterated how you need to start from the bottom to get where you want to go. I myself bounce around different departments and make it my business to know the industry front to back.”
Adams is one of many future students Roosevelt hopes to inspire with talks such as these, and Marriott made for an outstanding introduction.
“It’s a chance of a lifetime for our students,” Brown said. “I feel like they met a movie star today. He is a giant among men in the industry.”