The Keys to Marriott's Success

Long before the economy went south, Marriott had a reputation for finding creative ways to wrest the most value from every IT dollar.

By Stephanie Overby
Fri, August 15, 2003

CIO — Hanging in the office of each of Marriott International’s 1,200 I.T. employees is a framed document titled "Information Resources Operating Values." Executive Vice President and CIO Carl Wilson brought this statement of principles to Marriott in 1997 to guide IT decision making, and Marriott has issued it in ready-to-mount form to every new employee since then.

The Spirit to Serve, Chairman and CEO J.W. Marriott Jr.’s management book published that same year, is also required reading for new hires. It covers everything from how his father bought his first A&W Root Beer stand in 1927 to how to do just about anything involved in running a hotel in the best way possible, of course. It includes, for instance, J.W.’s famous 66-step process for cleaning a room. Talk to an IT associate, and you’ll inevitably hear him recite from the book chapter and verse. (The next time you stay at a Marriott, check it out. The Spirit to Serve is in every room.)

All this may sound more cult than corporate culture. And within the hospitality industry, Marriott does indeed come in for its share of teasing about its almost religious adherence to the tenets of the "Marriott way." Yet many of these precepts revolve around one word: resourcefulness.

Now it might seem that following strict, documented rules would inhibit innovation. But in practice, the fact that Marriott and its IT department have documents and systems, policies and procedures, and even history and philosophy to guide their decisions frees them to focus on real resourcefulness: creativity combined with the commitment to wringing the most value from every IT dollar.

It seems to be working for the $8.4 billion hotel management company. Marriott has just experienced the worst two years in its 75-year history. Yet thanks largely to the resourcefulness of its IT, last year the Bethesda, Md.-based company was able to add more than 31,000 rooms and sustain an occupancy rate of 70 percent, well above the 59 percent industry average.

"Resourcefulness has to do with a mind-set and a culture. Our fundamental operating values define our culture here," Wilson says. "One of the things we always say is that we’ll never be satisfied with the way things are today. We’ll continue to improve them to make them better."

No tree grows to the sky.

-The Spirit to Serve

After the early ’90s hit the hospitality industry with the one-two punch of recession and the Gulf War, Marriott was quick to spin off its real estate business in order to focus on managing hotels. But once the company returned to growth mode in 1994, its executives started to believe that happy days had come again and for good. "When times are tight, you struggle for ways to cut costs. Then all of a sudden you have a great year, like those we had in the mid-1990s, and you tend to start adding a lot of extra support functions," admits President and COO William J. Shaw. "When we had some of our best years, we let those costs slip back in there."

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