The glitz and glamour of the SydneyHarbour Marriott reflects 81 years of a solid company philosophy. Ranked as the hotel industry’s most admired company and one of the best companies to work for by Fortune Magazine, Marriott International is in a league of its own. Sarah O’Carroll reports
Marriott International’s “spirit to serve” culture is based on a business philosophy coined 80 years ago by founders, John Willard and Alice S. Marriott –“take care of the associate, and they’ll take care of the guest.”
In 1927 John and Alice opened a nine-stool rootbeer stand in Washington DC. They called it “The Hot Shoppe”. Hot Shoppes Inc was soon incorporated and the company developed through airline catering, catering during World War II, and eventually into the hotel industry in the 1950s.
In 2004 they opened their 2632nd hotel and today, with reported sales of $13 billion, approximately 151,000 Marriott associates are serving guests throughout the world.
However despite the sheer size of the company, this entrenched philosophy has managed to carry down through the family and to all the workers in each of the 67 countries where Marriott operates. This is largely due to the fact that many of the Marriott family are still actively involved with the hotels.
Take care of the associate, and they’ll take care of the guest
But is this philosophy a reality within the hotels on the ground? According to Natasha Rasheed, director of HR of the Sydney Marriott hotels, it very much is. She attributes a lot of it to some of the outstanding programs in place to help support leaders in looking after members of staff.
“I think it’s our leaders that really set us apart, because the culture of our company is very family orientated and it’s all about caring,” she said.
“We’re selecting leaders that really do care about our associates and they know that they’re not going to be successful in their job roles unless they really want to make a difference in our associates’ lives.
“It’s not a hotel company that’s solely focused on the guest; it’s a really balanced approach,” said Rasheed.
These leaders are discovered early on and there is a great tradition of promoting from within. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be within the same branch. Transfers and promotions throughout the company’s 3000 branches worldwide is commonplace.
A prime example of talent kept within the company is Fiona Pereira. When Pereira cleared her desk after resigning from her management position in Marriott Hotels – having worked for them for 15 years – she felt somewhat nostalgic. But she felt she had no other choice. Pereira had a six-month-old baby and as much as she wanted to work, she couldn’t give the level of commitment she wanted to both being a mother and to her demanding managerial role.
As she was leaving the hotel that day, her general manager approached her to say goodbye, and noticed she wasn’t overly enthused about giving up her job. Asking her what she was going to do, Fiona said she planned to find some other less demanding role, possibly part-time.
Within a few weeks, Fiona was back working in a different department in the hotel – with less responsibility and fewer hours. Her new role helped her transition back into the working world in the early stages of motherhood. Since then she has progressed back to a management position in a different department, but still maintains the fewer hours and less responsibility.
“The returning to work thing … I really did need that subtle introduction back into the workforce. And Marriott were really flexible for me,” she said.
When Pereira started with Marriott in London15 years earlier, she planned to stay only a few months. However due to the great induction, training, mentoring and opportunity to travel Pereira is still with the hotel and has no plans to leave.
“The company definitely lives up to their ‘people taking care of people’ philosophy,” she said. “It really does stick. I have friends who work for other hotels which have mottos and philosophies but it doesn’t run through. I sat in orientation on that first day and just thought: ‘Everyone can say this in orientation, but will it actually be true?’ It actually has been true,” she said.
Training and development
According to Pereira, Marriott firmly believe in continuous training and development. “They believe in developing their people – I wouldn’t have stayed for 15 years if I didn’t feel I was constantly being developed. [They offer] lots of training, courses, opportunities and also mentors,” she said.
Rasheed agrees. She has been with the company for 16 years and at every stage of her career she felt she had the opportunity to learn, grow and crosstrain in other areas. “A lot of companies say: ‘Yes, we do cross training’, but it’s a real deliverable here, it really does happen.
“If a room attendant wants to crosstrain in front office or as a bellperson, for example, we give them that opportunity. I think it really drives loyalty when someone knows that you will invest in them throughout their career.”
Rasheed emphasises their rigorous on-boarding program as a key element of their training and development program. “We have great onboard support for every new associate, no matter who they are or what position they hold in the organisation,”says Rasheed.
“The way we onboard people, before they even meet a guest or start their job role, is they spend three days learning about the company culture, about our history, about our expectations and then they actually start learning on their fourth day of employment about the actual job that they’re employed to do,” she says.
With Debbie Marriott Harrison, grand-daughter of founding father JW Marriott, scheduled to visit the Sydney Marriott hotels in July it will strengthen the link with the longstanding family traditions. This is a very significant part of the hotel’s culture, according to Rasheed.
“I think the overriding thing that encourages and makes our associates want to stay with us is that it is family – it’s comfortable, it’s a caring environment, and associates are respected.
“So it’s kind of like just being at home, people have that real sense of belonging. It’s that that keeps people here because the glitz and glamour does wear off at the end of the day,” says Rasheed.
All in all, according to Rasheed and the employees of Marriott, the awards don’t come from nowhere. The mottos coined 81 years ago have really stood the test of time.
“It’s so incredible, if you think about our expansion. The company started 81 years ago and now we’re sitting here in 2008 with 3000 plus hotels. Yet the culture is so strong and it comes down to just having that one core value and vision for the company right from the beginning and it hasn’t been compromised over time,” says Rasheed.