Arne Sorenson’s legacy encompasses many qualities—from his leadership and
empathy to his business acumen and embracing the big picture of humanity.
Arne, who died Monday, February 15, at age 62 after a nearly two-year
battle with pancreatic cancer, was the consummate communicator. He
understood his audience and almost always had a tailor-made response to
questions. His even-keeled, measured approach to delivering messages became
one of his most important calling cards.
The shock of his passing runs deep because we thought we’d have more time
to experience his passion for the hotel industry—even after the company
announced two weeks ago that Arne was temporarily reducing his workload to
focus on his health.
During many of the interviews I had the good fortune of conducting with
Arne over the years, he often talked about the importance of taking the
lead and lending a voice. That’s something he did with aplomb—and it’s why
he was held in such high esteem by an entire industry.
For example, during the ALIS Winter Update digital event on January 25,
Arne talked about the need to keep in mind those hotel industry
employees who have lost their jobs because of the global pandemic
. “Dealing with our people has been singularly the most difficult aspect of
this challenge,” he told interviewer Stephanie Ricca, editor-in-chief of
Hotel News Now. “[There were] far too many people who [had] their jobs
profoundly impacted. … We’ve got to do our best to make sure we are
bringing them back, keeping them close until they come back.”
Arne was a man of action. The story behind Marriott’s 2016 acquisition of
Starwood Hotels & Resorts demonstrated his ability to rally the troops.
When it appeared that the entire deal was going to fall through and another
company was going to end up with Starwood, Arne revived the conversation
and ended up with a $13-billion deal that created the world’s largest hotel
company. He said at the time that keeping all 30 brands intact and relevant
could be done—and steadfastly maintained that stance even as owners worried
that some brands might be sold. The portfolio remains intact to this day.
Born in Tokyo, Arne’s life was filled with a global presence from the
beginning. As he grew into the CEO role at Marriott, it was clear he had a
global vision with local wisdom. He knew the big picture was built piece by
He wasn’t afraid to voice his opinion even when it wasn’t the most popular
thing to say. His support of diversity and inclusion made a difference, as
did his stance on immigration and many other issues.
Arne at times made tough decisions that challenged the status quo—that’s
the duty of a good leader. He always seemed to appreciate the pros and cons
of every decision he made and weighed his comments before speaking.
An anecdote from Arnie Weissman of Travel Weekly about Marriott cutting
group and meetings commissions in 2018 epitomizes Arne’s ability to see the
big picture and communicate well.
Check it out here.
Arne graced the ALIS stage many times over the years, and it was more than
his hotel knowledge that the crowd came to hear. He possessed a rare
combination of humility, empathy, and a sense of humor to complement his
business wisdom. That’s the Arne people wanted to hear.
And it’s what drew tributes like these this week (these are only highlights
of the many statements issued):
“Arne was an exceptional executive – but more than that – he was an
exceptional human being. Arne loved every aspect of this business and
relished time spent touring our hotels and meeting associates around
the world. He had an uncanny ability to anticipate where the
hospitality industry was headed and position Marriott for growth. But
the roles he relished the most were as husband, father, brother and
friend. On behalf of the Board and Marriott’s hundreds of thousands of
associates around the world, we extend our heartfelt condolences to
Arne’s wife and four children. We share your heartbreak, and we will
miss Arne deeply.”—
J.W. “Bill” Marriott, Jr., Executive Chairman and Chairman of the
Board of Marriott International
“While Arne’s business accomplishments are apparent to all, his
championing of social change made our entire industry better for
everyone. Many will remember Arne as the first non-Marriott to serve as
CEO of the iconic hotel brand, but Arne will be remembered most for his
decency, generosity and compassion.”—
AHLA Chairman and Hyatt CEO Mark Hoplamazian and AHLA CEO Chip
“When he spoke, people wanted to listen, and when he led, people
followed. That is the mark of a great leader and his legacy at Marriott
speaks for itself, not just in how he consistently raised the bar to
grow the company, but also in the way he championed progress on
important social and environmental issues and represented our industry
with such grace in the best of times and in the most challenging of
times.”—IHG CEO Keith Barr
“God Bless one of the greatest leaders we’ve ever been gifted to have
led our industry over the years on so many different levels. Arne will
be missed in more ways than we will ever know.”— Wyndham CEO Geoff Ballotti
“We have lost a giant. As a father, husband, friend, leader, and
steward. But more than anything, as a human being. Arne was a brother,
mentor, and incredible inspiration to me, and I will forever remain
grateful to have been in his grace. God bless his adoring wife, Ruth,
and his beautiful soul.”—Noble Investment Group CEO Mit Shah
That sampling of responses shows the respect and admiration Arne earned
during his tenure in the hotel industry. All of us at The BHN Group and
Northstar Travel Group extend our sincerest condolences to his family,
colleagues, and the hotel industry in general during this sad time.
May we all utilize what his leadership and approach to life taught us as we
go through the difficult task of rebuilding our industry. That, I believe,
would make Arne proud.
President, The BHN Group