Marriott CEO Praised for 'Lesson' in Leadership

Arne Sorenson doesn't sugarcoat the bad news, still offers hope in video
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 23, 2020 8:04 AM CDT

The hotel industry is among the hardest hit in the coronavirus outbreak, with massive layoffs underway and growing fears that many hotels may never reopen. The world's largest hotel company, Marriott International, is no exception, as a video released last week by CEO Arne Sorenson makes clear. But Sorenson is winning widespread praise for the video itself and the way he is handling the crisis. Coverage:

  • Why so good? "This is what leadership looks like" is one typical response on Twitter, writes Carmine Gallo at Forbes. And Gallo, who advises CEOs on how to handle crises, agrees. He "was candid, vulnerable, humble, emotional and hopeful." In fact, every leader in business and beyond should watch the video and learn, writes Jason Aten at Inc. His headline refers to a "lesson in leading."
  • Two things: Start with the 61-year-old's appearance, which he refers to as his "new bald look" after cancer treatments. He noted that some advisers didn't think he should appear in a video as a result. In rejecting that advice, he "demonstrates vulnerability and humility, two qualities that connect human beings to one another," writes Gallo. Then there is his announcement that he will forgo his salary for the rest of the year, a sign of "shared sacrifice."

  • A lesson: At Inc., Aten writes that Sorenson's decision to forgo his salary is no small thing. But "more importantly, Sorenson manages to directly and clearly communicate with his team in the midst of a crisis in a way that many leaders in business and elsewhere fail to grasp," he writes. "That should be at the top of your list of priorities when figuring out your business contingency plan during a crisis."
  • The pain: Sorenson doesn't sugarcoat it, saying COVID-19 "is having a more severe and sudden financial impact on our business than 9/11 and the 2009 financial crisis combined." He added that in most markets, business was 75% below normal levels because nobody is traveling. Marriott, more than a century old, has existed through the Great Depression and World War II, but this "is like nothing we've ever seen before," he says.
  • Job losses: Marriott is furloughing two-thirds of its 4,000 corporate employees at its headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland, as well as two-thirds of corporate staff overseas, reports the Wall Street Journal. Tens of thousands of workers, from housekeepers to managers, also were losing their jobs, abruptly. The story notes that other chains are in the same boat. At Dallas-based Ashford, for instance, 95% of 7,000 employees are losing their jobs through layoffs or furloughs.
  • Job losses, II: Business Insider reports that 4 million US hotel employees could lose their jobs in the next few weeks, or about half of all such jobs in the country. It's why hotel and travel industry leaders have asked the White House for a $150 billion bailout. And the pain is not just in the US, of course. "We are in complete freefall as a sector," says an industry exec in Australia, per the Financial Review.
  • Hope: Sorenson was candid about the trouble for Marriott, but in an emotional ending to his video, he also offered hope, notes Gallo. "While it's impossible to know how long this crisis will last, I know we, as a global community, will come through the other side," he says. People will want to travel again, and "when that great day comes, we will be there to welcome them. ... Together we can and we will overcome this and we’ll thrive once again." Gallo's assessment: "Every crisis brings out the best in people—and brings the best leaders to the foreground."
(More coronavirus stories.)

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