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J. Willard Marriott

Founder of Marriott Corporation

J. Willard MarriottStarting from modest beginnings on his family farm in Utah, J. Willard Marriott went on to build an immensely successful lodging company that’s well known throughout the world.

Marriott first joined the hospitality industry in 1927, when he successfully launched a restaurant business with the opening of the first “Hot Shoppes,”—starting with an A&W Root Beer stand in Washington, D.C. This prosperous venture stemmed from his notion of providing inexpensive quality food and services. The Depression years fueled a tremendous ingenuity in Marriott; he recognized the success of a low-cost restaurant and the failure of luxury restaurants. It didn’t take long for Marriott to expand into the airline and hotel industries, and for the Marriott Company to grow rapidly.

Marriott opened his first hotel, the Twin Bridges Marriott in Washington, D.C., in 1957, followed by hotels in Dallas, Philadelphia and Atlanta. By 1964, the company had earned $84 million in revenue and had 9,600 employees.

The company further expanded into restaurants, acquiring the Big Boy restaurant chain and the Roy Rogers fast-food restaurant division in the late 1960s. A decade later in 1976, Marriott entered the entertainment and travel sectors, creating Marriott Great America Theme Parks and acquiring Sun Line cruise ships, which sailed to the Caribbean and the Aegean/Mediterranean areas.

By the mid-1980s, the Marriott Company had grown to 200,000 employees and had earned $4.5 billion in revenue. In 1989, the company opened its 500th hotel in Warsaw, Poland. The Marriott Company’s reach continued to grow, topping $8.4 billion by the mid-1990s—the time of Marriott’s induction into the Hospitality Hall of Honor.

Marriott’s success stemmed from a belief in community, according to those who worked closely with him. M.O. “Bus” Ryan, a senior vice president at Marriott Hotels, once said: “Our company taught that the way to be successful in this business is that you take care of your employees and they will take care of your guests … That climate, that culture of people concern, is what I think over the years has made Marriott so special.”