Fotolia via Adobe Stock
"Business fulfills its highest calling in society when it seeks not simply to maximize shareholder profits but to also provide employees with occasions for growth, personal progression and opportunity," writes Bill Marriott, Jr. "This is not just good corporate citizenship but also part of a Christian ethic to love thy neighbor and to extend to others the gifts and opportunities God has given to us."

Editor's note: This article by business leader Bill Marriott Jr. is part of an ongoing Deseret News opinion series exploring ideas and issues at the intersection of faith and thought.

Business fulfills its highest calling in society when it seeks not simply to maximize shareholder profits but to also provide employees with occasions for growth, personal progression and opportunity.

This is not just good corporate citizenship but also part of a Christian ethic to love thy neighbor and to extend to others the gifts and opportunities God has given to us.

Although I’ve had my share of stumbles as a business leader, I’ve strived to be guided by this ideal. Some of the societal and even spiritual struggles facing America today could be assuaged by acting to help those who are earnestly seeking opportunity.

Since the Great Recession, economists and politicians alike have struggled with the fact that many willing and able-bodied individuals have become discouraged in their efforts to find opportunities for honest employment that can provide for themselves and their families. Voices from across the political spectrum are searching for solutions and demanding action. While there are more jobs today, employment opportunities have remained a challenge for a certain cohort of workers who in some cases have simply dropped out of the labor force.

As someone who strives to follow Jesus Christ, I have — like many others — pondered how my faith should inform my actions in these perilous times. Within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, church members aim to become a “Zion people” who exhibit unity of heart and mind, live in righteousness and have “no poor” among us. This isn’t done through a handout. Rather, just as God has provided all humans with the opportunity of life, talents and eternal growth and progression, it’s incumbent on others to work toward providing opportunities for themselves and their fellow mortal sojourners using the skills honed through our innate gifts.

The challenge, however, is not in articulating these ideals but living them. This requires identifying the path to get from where we are to where we want to be and then following that path and helping others to do the same. That process inevitably requires us to learn and grow — both collectively and individually. This can be accomplished in a variety of settings, but my background has allowed me to see it up close in a business setting.

Five years ago, I passed the baton of day-to-day management of Marriott International to a leadership team that has my full support and confidence to carry out the vision of my parents when they founded the company 90 years ago.

We have five core values that everyone who works at Marriott International upholds. They are: put people first, pursue excellence, act with integrity, embrace change and serve our world. These values were founded because of my parents’ faith in the gospel and the values they were taught.

Together, these values were designed to create opportunity for individuals to grow, and in turn build the business success we enjoy today. The company provides jobs to hundreds of thousands of workers, and we still strive to emphasize that employment is more than a paycheck — it's an opportunity.

Opportunity is the reason that many of our associates stay at Marriott International for their whole career. We've found that the culture of opportunity encourages long-term growth and development that allows increasing levels of responsibility, accountability and leadership — in other words it allows people to flourish. Being a global business, we can offer versatility in roles that are constantly evolving. We promote from within, for example. Many mangers started in entry-level positions. We also offer physical, mental and financial well-being benefits and services, and we have a training program where the average associate spends 78 hours on training and 34 hours on professional development each year.

This is all part of providing meaningful opportunities.

Research data points to how much individuals value opportunity. Almost 54 percent of job applicants indicate that opportunities for advancement are more important than salary. The lack of opportunities for leadership development were cited by 70 percent of millennials in a recent Deloitte survey as a main motivation for seeking employment elsewhere.

Indeed, Latter-day Saint teachings emphasize the idea that God has given each of us talents and an opportunity to experience and learn from our earthly existence. Now we must expand our unique opportunities and then extend those to others. When opportunities are limited, society suffers. In the Book of Mormon, in the last few years prior to the Savior’s visit to the American continent, the Nephite nation began to stumble after a period of great prosperity. The church at the time began to be “broken up.” In a cautionary note for our own day, one of the factors cited was that “the people began to be distinguished by ranks” according to “their riches and their chances for learning.” In other words, opportunity was not widely available.

One of the initiatives that the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation continues to support is the Bridges program, whose purpose is to provide the opportunity to transform the lives of young adults with disabilities through employment. More than just a job, Bridges aims to empower some 1,000 disabled youths each year to prepare for the workplace, and through extensive research and understanding of the needs of our partner employers, successfully place them in mutually beneficial jobs where they can learn and grow.

In looking back over many decades of choices and consequences, I firmly believe that one of the greatest accomplishments that I made professionally or personally was creating opportunities for people to learn and grow in the lodging and food services industries.

Whatever circles of influence we may be fortunate enough to enjoy in our lives, we will never go wrong if we do all we can to cultivate opportunities where we and others can learn and grow together. After all, to learn and grow is in essence the secular synonym for becoming more like our Maker. We can solve the problems facing our country as individuals and communities when we judiciously seek to expand opportunities for those around us, especially those who are in the greatest need of an opportunity.

Bill Marriott Jr. is chairman of the board of Marriott International Inc.