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Marriott is in good hands

When I received my first management position with Marriott in 1992, I worked for a general manager named Mark Conklin. Although Mark (as he preferred to be called) oversaw more than two hundred employees, each employee received a hand-written card from him in the mail to honor the anniversary of their birth.

And he didn’t merely scrawl his signature beneath a pre-printed generic “Happy Birthday!” message. He took the time to write a full paragraph that highlighted a recent contribution the employee had made to the hotel, thanked them for their commitment to excellence, and wished them a Happy Birthday!

It would have been easier for Mark to distribute the cards through interoffice mail so that employees received their cards at work but he chose to mail the cards to employees’ homes. He reasoned that the cards would be opened in front of family members and that employees could take pride in sharing the positive comments about their valuable contributions at work.

Although this was 20 years ago, I still have the handwritten notes I received from Mark on my birthday. I keep them with the memorabilia I collected during my 20 years with the company. That’s how much they meant to me.

On December 13, 2011, J.W. Marriott, Jr. announced that he was stepping down as chief executive officer of Marriott International. Arne Sorenson, chief operating officer, has long been viewed as Mr. Marriott’s successor and will assume the CEO role in March. He will be only the third CEO in the company’s 85-year history and the first from outside the Marriott family.

The stability of having Mr. Marriott in the CEO role for nearly 40 years has provided Wall Street analysts with a level of confidence—even during some tumultuous economic cycles. His presence has also assured the company’s quarter million employees that they would be treated fairly and with respect. Customers even took comfort in knowing that there was a real “Mr. Marriott” standing behind the Marriott brand.

All this will change in March when Mr. Sorenson assumes the CEO role. There will likely be a bit more scrutiny by Wall Street. Employees may become more skeptical of corporate initiatives, and customers may begin to question the company’s longstanding commitment to maintaining the high standards of product and service quality championed by the founder’s son.

Last month, when the announcement was made, I was in the process of sending holiday cards and decided to send Mr. Sorenson a card with a brief note congratulating him on his promotion. Let me be clear: I don’t know Arne Sorenson personally. In fact, I’ve never even met him. My only connection to him is that I used to work for Marriott. And I certainly never expected to hear back from him.

To my surprise, the soon-to-be CEO of a $25 billion company took the time to send me the handwritten note below thanking me for my card:










After reading Mr. Sorenson’s note, I was reminded of the birthday cards I received from Mark Conklin 20 years ago—and was reassured that Marriott is in very good hands.

What are some other actions performed by leaders that have made a lasting positive impression on you?

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