After a rough year which saw a revolt by elite guests, a controversial devaluation of loyalty benefits, technical woes absorbing newly acquired Starwood properties and a historic data breach in which millions of guests’ personal details were exposed by hackers, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson was named the 2019 CEO of the Year by Chief Executive Magazine.
Controversial Marriott International Executive Arne Sorenson was named the 2019 CEO of the Year by Chief Executive Magazine. The honor was awarded by a selection committee comprised of leading executives from a wide cross-section of industries, including Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson, former Bausch & Lomb Chairman Fred Hassan and Crane CEO Max H. Mitchell.
“I am deeply honored by this tremendous recognition, and I thank my peer CEOs for the nomination,” Sorenson said in a joint statement announcing the accolade. “I stand on the shoulders of an icon, Bill Marriott, and the 730,000 people around the world who wear a Marriott name badge. Together, we work each day to uphold a legacy of creating opportunities—for our guests, our associates and the local neighborhoods where we operate.”
The selection committee singled out Sorenson’s “outstanding performance running one of the most complex, global businesses in the world in the face of daunting cultural and technological changes” in electing him the 33rd annual CEO of the Year champion. Past award winners make up a laundry list of business luminaries, including Bill Gates, Jack Welch, Michael Dell and Bob Iger.
Those “daunting cultural and technological changes” haven’t always been navigated successfully by Sorenson and his team in recent months. In November, Marriott was forced to come clean about what was at the time considered by some to be the biggest single hacker-involved data breach in history. Both Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) and Marriott Rewards members have loudly complained of losing status, redemption value and customer service attention following the merger of Marriott and Starwood. More recently, the hotel chain’s most loyal members have banded together to revolt against Marriott’s increasingly difficult-to-navigate Bonvoy rewards program. In February, Hilton CEO Christopher Nassetta announced that Marriott’s missteps have been Hilton Honors’ gain – to the tune of 14 million new members.
Not surprisingly, some of those disgruntled frequent guests are not exactly celebrating the news of Sorenson’s recent honor. Flyertalk’s elite Marriott Bonvoy members, in some cases, had to be convinced that the announcement was not an elaborate (albeit late) April Fools prank.
“Apparently, the guy who mocks his loyal customers and is oblivious to more than ‘noise around the edges’ is the envy of other CEOs,” Flyertalker “ItsAboutTheJourney” wrote. “Reading the quotes in that piece makes me gag. Sure Arne is good for the short-term share price of MAR, but he’s bad for customers and I truly think the long-term value of MAR.”
“Yeah, clear proof that these CEOs live in triple-glazed sound-proof palaces that reduces the chaos from one of the most botched IT projects since the United/Continental merger requiring a rushed hiring of inexperienced hastily under-trained telephonists and exposed the company to heaven-only-knows what lawsuits by acquiring the biggest data breach in American corporate history – to mere ‘noise around the edges,’” Bonvoy member “BrightlyBob” concurred. “Truly, these people live lives so very separated from those their decisions affect, this award beggars belief.”
While Sorenson (who is the first Marriott CEO to not have the last name of Marriott), certainly has his detractors, his tenure has largely been lauded by investors and his peers alike. Sorenson’s strong focus on social and environmental issues during his tenure at Marriott has likewise been well received.
“There are few people who have driven innovation in the way that Arne has and been able to lead such a large organization, and to be able to keep them focused on excellent execution and also the responsibilities that they have for each other, the environment and on social issues,” Kaman Corporation CEO and selection committee member Neal Keating offered.
[Image Source: Marriott]