Marriott International president and CEO Arne Sorenson passed away on Monday. The high-profile and highly respected hotel-industry executive had been battling pancreatic cancer since May 2019 and had just reduced his work schedule to focus on more intensive treatment for his health. Sorenson's work-schedule change was meant to be temporary and his death was unexpected, according to Marriott.
Sorenson was named CEO in 2012, just the third top exec in Marriott history and the first whose last name wasn't Marriott. He had been an executive with the company since 1996. Marriott grew quite a bit under his leadership, most notably thanks to the $13 billion acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts in 2016. Sorenson also became an in-demand spokesperson for the industry thanks to his stand on issues related to the ease of global travel, environmental sustainability, human-trafficking awareness, and the promotion of diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace.
“Arne was an exceptional executive, but more than that, he was an exceptional human being,” said J.W. Marriott, Jr., executive chair and chair of the board. “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.”
Sorenson was wildly popular throughout the industry, and his insight was highly valued by political administrations and national organizations such as the U.S. Travel Association. “This is a huge loss, first and foremost for Ruth and Arne’s wonderful family, but also for his many associates at Marriott International and those of us across the travel industry who had the pleasure of interacting with him," said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. "We frequently sought his wise counsel and collaborated to improve the travel experience. Arne always offered a vision that extended well beyond the lodging sector he so expertly represented.
“To me, Arne was more than a professional colleague with whom I shared a special Marriott bond," Dow continued. "He was an ally, a trusted friend and a partner. He also lent his considerable talents to U.S. Travel, particularly as chair of our CEO Roundtable, but also in countless other ways. I will miss him terribly.”
Those of us in the travel media who have covered the hospitality industry share the same sentiments. An interview with Arne Sorenson was an assurance of a thoughtful, analytical conversation, not one of canned statements. Whether at a Marriott event, an industry conference or on the phone, speaking with Sorenson meant you'd have his attention and you'd be the wiser for it afterwards.
When Sorenson reduced his work schedule earlier this month, Marriott tapped two veteran executives, Stephanie Linnartz, group president of consumer operations, technology and emerging businesses, and Tony Capuano, group president of global development, design and operations services, to share the responsibilities for overseeing the company's day-to-day operations. They will continue in that capacity until the Marriott board names a new CEO, which is expected to occur within the next two weeks.