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Marriott’s Big Deal

Marriott’s Big Deal

After such a big deal, do you have acquisition fatigue? Not at all. We love doing deals, but the deals need to make sense and we have a lot of work ahead off us in proving that the Starwood acquisition is a successful one. We don’t believe that simply because we closed it, we have proved everything we want to prove. We’re going to be focused on getting that done. And I don’t mean to suggest that we are impressed by the amount of the work we have left to accomplish. On the contrary, we are totally turned on by it. I think we are thrilled that we got the deal and that we got it closed. We are thrilled by what we can make of it in the months and years ahead. It is not fundamentally about fatigue; it is about being really turned on by the opportunities.

When these opportunities present themselves, you need to be able to react quickly enough to make things happen. How can a huge company like Marriott be that nimble? To use the Starwood deal as an example, when the company first became available, we looked at the deal and decided not to pursue it. Then, over the course of a few months—as we observed things that were happening in the industry and thought about the work that we were doing—we changed our mind and jumped in with both feet. From the start of that re-engagement to the signing of the documents, that was done in three weeks and two days. It was breathtakingly fast. It was faster than we anticipated, but if you’re working on a team that is collaborative and honest with each other, and that is willing to work with people outside the company to make and revise decisions, it’s not impossible.

So how did you get everyone on the same page? I don’t think it’s hugely difficult, as long as you have a team where everyone is highly collaborative and transparent with each other. The decisions Marriott’s leadership team makes are gleaned from what is essentially an ongoing conversation. We are not necessarily unanimous about everything, and we don’t necessarily take votes either, but there is always a general consensus that a certain path is the right one to take.

When you first became CEO, were you anticipating growing through massive acquisitions like this one, or did this strategy develop as your time with the company went on? Very much the latter. The world is changing quickly, quicker than we have ever seen it change before, and that is true of our industry as well. I think in many respects, the best thing to do is be ready to seize whatever opportunities are presented. And ideally, those opportunities will allow us to change with this industry and get stronger. Starwood was not for sale when I became CEO in 2012. There was no real reason to predict that Starwood would ever be for sale. There was no way I’d be able to predict or plan for a situation like the one we encountered last year in advance.

With the hotel industry shouldering so much economic weight, do you have any concerns regarding President Trump’s executive orders restricting travel and immigration? I think what the Brexit vote in the U.K. and the election of Trump in the United States told us is that there are people who are both worried about their security and who are uncertain about the rules around immigration. Obviously, both of those issues need to be taken seriously. And I think that President Trump’s executive order regarding immigration forced conversation around both of those topics. It helps us to determine whether we have weaknesses in our system around security, where they are, and how we can address them. Similarly, it shined a light on immigration and put us in a position to come to a consensus. Those could be very effective conversations.

That said, it won’t surprise you to hear that I don’t think an executive order that doesn’t solve those questions, but puts a ban in place, is the right focus. It would have been much better to start a task force or another means of discussion. It is still possible that the administration will focus on the aforementioned questions and use this window to actually explore security risks. And hopefully they will lead the way in building a consensus around those things so we can get to a place where everyone feels safer and more secure. Then we can continue communicating broadly from the United States and around the world about the importance of travel.

What role do you see the lodging and hotel industry playing in the greater U.S. economy? I serve on the board at Brand U.S.A., which is an organization that markets the United States to the rest of the world. In many respects, we see our mission as marketing “welcome.” Obviously, most of the world knows about the United States and I think many people are interested in visiting. So we want to make sure that we communicate to folks all over the globe that they are, in fact, welcome here. I sit on the executive committee of the World Travel & Tourism Council, I participated in the Travel & Hospitality Forum, I am actively engaged with the U.S. Travel Association, running their CEO council this year, and I am actively engaged with AHLA. While the agendas of each of those organizations vary a bit, they are all focused on promoting travel, and promoting the understanding of the economic power of travel. We think that one in ten jobs and about 10 percent of GDP around the world is driven by travel and hospitality. So we would be crazy to disregard the economic power of this engine. It’s a job-making engine, taxpaying engine, and an engine of great happiness for our guests.

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