If you're a business student at the University of Utah, could there be anything more exciting than listening to one of the world's most successful chief executives - who just happens to be a U. alumnus - talk about how to build and maintain a billion-dollar company?
Not likely. And hotelier J. Willard Marriott Jr., in his low-key, understated way, held a hundred or so of those students spellbound Friday at Mark Green Hall on the U.campus, where he kicked off the Graduate School of Business' Distinguished Executive Lecture Series for 1988-89.Earlier in the week, Marriott, chairman and president of Marriott Corp., the hotel and food service giant based in Washington D.C., presented the U. with an endowment of $1 million from the J. Willard Marriott Foundation, to establish the Royal L. Garff College of Business Chair. Garff is Marriott's father-in-law and was his former college professor.
Marriott would likely still be answering queries from his audience if his voice hadn't started to give out and he was finally forced to make good on his vow of "just one more."
To their credit, the students were prepared. Marriott fielded in-depth questions on everything from the profit potential of the new mega-resort hotels in Hawaii to whether someone else bearing the Marriott name will eventually fill his shoes when the chairman retires.
Speaking to the former, Marriott is somewhat bearish on the mega-hotels, pointing out that room rates of $300 to $500 a night have a limited clientele. We won't see many more of them built, he assures.
As for his successor, he noted wryly that at age 56 he "still has a few years left" so it's not a burning issue. He pointed out that he has a son and son-in-law working in the company as well as many other capable top executives. "But no one has been anointed," he quipped.
With more than 200,000 employees, Marriott cannot claim to know the names and family histories of all of them, as his father did in the early days of the company that evolved from a small Washington D.C. root beer stand. But it's not for lack of trying.
When your business is selling service, said Marriott, you not only have to know your customers, you have to know, appreciate and reward your employees. You have to become what Marriott terms a "preferred employer." And that doesn't mean paying more, he stressed. Provided the pay scale is fair, money is well down the list of criteria for job satisfaction.
As in the beginning, Marriott Corp. is still a family, it's just gotten bigger, Marriott told the students. And in an age of falling unemployment, when entry-level workers are becoming as scarce as manual typewriters, the key to success in a business as labor intensive as hospitality is to create a superior work environment.
Some other tidbits from the management manual of Bill Marriott:
-"My greatest resource is my staff. If I stop listening, they stop talking, and then I'd lose their input."
-"My dad practiced management by walking around years before Peters and Waterman thought they discovered it. It still works. You can't manage a business by sitting in an office."
-"Letting your employees know you care has to be part of your daily life, not just something you do once in a while."
-Sophisticated management techniques are fine, but don't forget the basics, said Marriott, quoting his father's advice on how best to handle a top-level meeting of executives: "Don't cook the pancakes in advance and put them on the steam table."