The cult of hospitality

Gary Dodds of Marriot
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Emotive and captivating stories are the currency of any culture. As Marriott corporate lore has it, the company’s global rise was seeded by a humble stand vending root beer and tamales in pre-depression Washington, D.C. The stand was owned by the Marriott family, and this continuity is an important part of what sets the corporation apart in the world today. 

In the narrative of the Marriott Corporation, the company is a hospitality empire still seeking its equal after 85 years under the tutelage of a single family. Today the company welcomes guests to some 3,700 locations across 72 countries. Marriott employed 129,000 staff at the end of September 2011 and is the highest-ranked corporation with more than 100,000 employees in the United States in the Fortune Magazine’s and Great Places to Work Institute’s (GPTWI)’s ranking of the 100 best US companies to work for.

Despite pressures recent turbulent years in the global economy dampening results in the hospitality industry, Marriott has been able to retain its top-100 workplace status in the US for 15 years running. Last October it ranked seventh in the GPTWI’s first list of the best multinational workplaces globally.

Growth in emerging markets is important in Marriott’s global agenda for expanding its capacities by 105,000 managed rooms, 30,000 of which are to be added in 2012. The UAE is part of the agenda with high-profile openings in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.  

In the UAE, Marriott rose to third-best company to work for in 2012 from fourth position in the inaugural 2011 list. Of the multinational companies in the 2012 UAE Best Companies list, Marriott supplies the most jobs with a wide range of profiles and reported the largest year-on-year numerical growth in job offerings of the top ten companies to work for. 

One might think that service-focused ventures have an edge in developing strong workplace cultures but all hospitality corporations have this same theoretical advantage, says Gary Dodds, vice president, human resources, Middle East and Africa at Marriott International. 

“We are all hotel groups” he says, “and there really are a lot of great companies out there. I think the difference with us is our culture. Of the big hotel groups in the world, we are the only one whose name above the door is the chairman of the same family in situ.”  

Dodds credits the strength of this culture to more than just continuity in the company’s name and ownership. It is a “genuine living culture” nurtured very actively over five decades and it is built around persistent core family values of dignity and respect — specifically respect for the employee before anyone else, he tells Executive. “If you learn that you as an employee are first in the mind of your manager before the guest, this is quite powerful. Because if we don’t care for you, why would you bother caring for the guest?” 

The Great Place to Work Culture Audit highlights how this employee centricity at Marriott manifests as culture of appreciation.  Employees — or associates as Marriott calls them — who receive a note of special thanks from a guest are rewarded not just by their direct or regional managers. They receive a Certificate of Excellence signed by the Chairman at the corporate headquarters. 

In another expression of this culture, senior leaders in the corporation will first attend to employee needs when they visit a property and their chairman often interacts with core operational staff, such as housekeepers, cleaners, or engineers when visiting a Marriott-managed property anywhere in the world, adds Dodds. 

Besides appreciation, the culture fosters communication through institutions such as Associate Relations Committees, which represent employee interests and empower communications between management and staff. On a global level, the organization moreover operates a fair treatment hotline for employees. 

Most of the hotels under the group’s different brands are managed by the corporation. But since ownership is usually in the hands of local investors in various markets, the company has to satisfy their business interests. The paradigm for providing property owners with decent profits is fully in sync with the Marriott culture, Dodds says. “It’s the same three stakeholders: take care of your employees, take care of the guests, the guests drive the money that takes care of the owner.”

Thomas Schellen

Thomas Schellen is Executive's editor-at-large. He has been reporting on Middle Eastern business and economy for over 20 years. Send mail