It Comes From the Soul

December 6, 2014

I’m often asked, “How did you create such a great culture at Marriott?”  There’s no magical formula or business consultant that you call and say, “build us a culture.”   It comes from the soul of the executive team usually the founder.  In our case, it came from our co-founders, my mom and dad who opened their first Root Beer Stand in 1927. 

Kip tindellWe recently partnered with The Container Store on helping sprucing up our closets at TownePlace Suites.  Its CEO, Kip Tindell, came by our headquarters to meet the team and talk to our associates about his company.  He didn’t talk about the latest closet organizer or even our “closet envy” promotion.  Kip discussed The Container Store’s culture that was formed with birth of the company in 1978.  I want to share a few things he said at HQ and wrote about in his excellent book, “Uncontainable.”  He said, “culture is the most important aspect of business.”  I couldn’t agree more. 

The Container Store’s core belief is “Where Everyone Thrives.”  At Marriott International, our number one core value is “Putting People First.”  How you communicate that is very important.  An early chapter “Communication is Leadership” really resonates with me.  Talking to associates about core values is very important.  Talking the talk must be followed up with walking the walk, and I walk around visiting hundreds of hotels.  Our core values are not simply thumbtacked on an employee bulletin board.  I also recruited a very qualified person as our first cultural officer, my daughter Debbie. She knows all about the history. That’s how much of an emphasis we place on culture at Marriott.

The Container Store offers a great road map on how to develop a “conscious culture,” a values-based business.  First, Kip launched the company with his trusted friends who shared his beliefs.  His father was very skeptical.  (Sound familiar?  My dad was skeptical of the hotel businesses.)  

In his book, Kip quotes one of his father’s buddies as saying, “What? You boys are going to sell empty boxes?”  But Kip and his team knew they were on to something.  People were looking to save space. 

Retail is a tough business.  Online shopping is hurting brick and mortar stores.  The great recession forced many to shutter in 2008.  The Container Store miraculously never had any lay-offs.  To their credit, Kip and his team never lost sight of the values that were the foundation to the business.  Similarly, during our downturns, our values at Marriott have carried us through.

I was also struck by Kip’s chapter, “1 Great Person = 3 Good People.”  It’s all about hiring the best and most productive employees.  The chapter begins with this statement:  “Talent is the whole ball game… we absolutely want our employees to be the very best.”  A successful business has to promote opportunity by emphasizing training and developing a nurturing workplace.  As Kip goes on to say, “We have to be at work all day every day, so we might as well do something we really feel proud of.”

In forming business partnerships, there are no guarantees that everything will work out. When we acquire a hotel company the most important thing we consider is the merging of our cultures.  Will they clash?  Can we work together?   I now know why people like shopping at The Container Store.  It’s all about their terrific culture.

I’m Bill Marriott and thanks for helping me keep Marriott on the move. 

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