Marriott’s Arne Sorenson Passes Away; Industry Reacts

Arne M. Sorenson, president/CEO of Marriott, unexpectedly died yesterday. He was 62.

In May 2019, the company announced that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. On Feb. 2, Marriott shared the news that Sorenson would temporarily reduce his schedule to facilitate more demanding treatment for pancreatic cancer.

Sorenson became the third CEO in Marriott’s history in 2012, and the first without the Marriott surname. A visionary leader, he put the company on a strong growth trajectory that included the $13-billion acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts. During his tenure as CEO, he was tireless in driving the company’s progress, creating opportunities for associates, growth for owners and franchisees and results for the company’s shareholders. Known for his leadership on difficult national and global issues, he steered Marriott to make significant progress on diversity, equity and inclusion, environmental sustainability and human trafficking awareness.

“Arne was an exceptional executive—but more than that, he was an exceptional human being,” said J.W. Marriott Jr., executive chairman and chairman 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.”

When he stepped back from full-time management in early February, the company tapped two veteran Marriott executives, Stephanie Linnartz, group president, consumer operations, technology and emerging businesses, and Tony Capuano, group president, global development, design and operations services, to share responsibility for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the company’s business units and corporate functions, in addition to maintaining their current responsibilities. Linnartz and Capuano will continue in this capacity until the Marriott Board appoints a new CEO, which is expected to be within the next two weeks.

Industry Reacts
As news of Sorenson’s passing began to spread, Hotel Business reached out to the industry for reactions.

Chris Nassetta, president/CEO, Hilton: “I am deeply saddened by the heartbreaking news of Arne Sorenson’s passing. He was an incredibly respected man, a leader in hospitality and a devoted husband, father and friend. It’s been a true honor to work alongside him on behalf of our great industry for so many years, and I will miss him and the friendship we’ve built. On behalf of everyone at Hilton, I want to extend my condolences to the Sorenson family, the thousands of Marriott associates around the world and the countless people whose lives he has positively impacted over the years.”

Chip Rogers, president/CEO of AHLA and Mark Hoplamazian, president/CEO of Hyatt Hotels and chair of the AHLA board, released a joint statement that reads: “Today, it is with deep sorrow that the hotel community joins together to mourn the passing of a generational leader, Arne Sorensen. We offer our condolences to his family, team and everyone whose life he touched during his more than 30 years at Marriott International. Arne was a visionary leader driven by passion for his people, the millions of associates around the world who worked for and with him and by a desire to spread a love for travel. He was an icon in our industry, dedicated to improving the lodging experience for the guests we serve and the people who serve them.

“Through his transformative leadership, he not only guided Marriott through many prosperous years but also helped steer our industry through some of the toughest economic times from 9/11, the Great Recession and most recently the COVID pandemic. While Arne’s business accomplishments are apparent to all, his championing of social change made our entire industry better for everyone. Many will remember Arne as the first non-Marriott to serve as CEO of the iconic hotel brand, but Arne will be remembered most for his decency, generosity and compassion.

“Arne’s battle against cancer embodied the qualities that made him such an exceptional human being—endless optimism, perseverance and servant leadership. His touch on the hospitality industry will be felt for generations. His impact on the lives of all of us who knew him personally is profound. The world is a better place because of Arne Sorenson. Everyone at AHLA feels a numbing loss today and our hearts go out to his immediate family and his extended family at Marriott. His legacy will live on in all of us.”

Roger Dow, president/CEO of the U.S. Travel Association: “It is difficult to find words that express the depth of our sadness at the passing of Arne Sorenson, our dear friend, business leader and travel advocate. 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. 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, 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.”

Geoff Ballotti, president/CEO, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts: “Our hearts today at Wyndham are broken with the passing of our dear friend and colleague Arne, who meant so much to all of us. We will keep Arne, Ruth, Astri, Esther, Lars and Isaac in our prayers along with all of the Marriott family. God bless one of the greatest leaders we’ve ever been gifted to have lead our industry over the years on so many different levels. Arne will be missed in more ways than we will ever know.”

Lee Pillsbury: “Arne personified the values that Bill Marriott and the Marriott family stood for. He was an extraordinary leader and a great human being.”

Bruce White, founder/chairman of White Lodging: “Arne was a friend, mentor to me and many others in addition to being an extraordinary leader for Marriott and our industry. His impact was global and touched many. He will be missed by all who were fortunate enough to know him. I will miss his example and time spent together. My condolences go out to Ruth and the Sorenson family.”

Ken Barrett, president of White Lodging: “Arne was a great inspiration for all of hospitality and certainly the Marriott brand. He was a great gentleman and friend to many, including a long history of collaboration with White Lodging. He will be missed.”

Cecil P. Staton, president/CEO of AAHOA: “Arne Sorenson was a visionary hospitality executive, and we are deeply saddened by his sudden passing. As one of the first CEOs with whom I met after joining AAHOA, he was an approachable leader—always ready to listen, to learn and to share his views and advice. He had a profound impact on Marriott and the broader hospitality industry and was a champion for equality and opportunity. AAHOA members knew Arne as a huge supporter and advocate of the association, and he was a considerable presence at AAHOA’s conventions, conferences and young professional events. Arne embodied the spirit of hospitality, and owners valued his accessibility, engagement and passion for his work. As thousands of hoteliers and millions of workers struggled with the economic fallout of the pandemic, Arne could be counted on as a beacon of optimism despite the health challenges he faced. On behalf of AAHOA members, I offer our condolences to the Sorenson family, his colleagues at Marriott International, and every individual who was lucky enough to be impacted by Arne and his life’s work. The hospitality industry lost an invaluable leader yesterday, but we will all continue to benefit from the sizeable impact Arne made through his work, dedication, and significant contribution to our industry.”

Patrick Pacious, CEO of Choice Hotels: “This week, we lost a great leader who had a major impact on our industry and on the lives of many who call the travel industry their home. On behalf of all of us at Choice Hotels, I’d like to express our deepest condolences to Arne Sorenson’s family, to the entire Marriott International family, and to the many people who were inspired by his personal and professional leadership. He set a tremendous example for all of us as someone who truly loved the hotel industry and lived his passion for it every day. He worked on behalf of everyone in hospitality—associates, owners, brands and guests—to advocate for what was right and was in their best interests. Arne was a truly remarkable person, colleague and friend, his voice carried great weight, and he will be deeply missed.”

Keith Barr, CEO of IHG Hotels and Resorts: “It is with great sadness that we’ve learned today of the passing of Marriott International President and CEO, Arne Sorenson. Arne was an incredibly inspiring person to so many people, and his love of our industry, his passion for his company and the care he showed for those around him were clear for all to see.

“When he spoke, people wanted to listen, and when he led, people followed. That is the mark of a great leader and his legacy at Marriott speaks for itself, not just in how he consistently raised the bar to grow the company, but also in the way he championed progress on important social and environmental issues, and represented our industry with such grace in the best of times and in the most challenging of times.

“As an industry colleague and a friend, I feel privileged to have known Arne and to have worked together on tackling some of our industry’s big challenges. I have such respect for all he achieved and for the way he stayed so strong during his illness, leading Marriott through the hardest time in our industry’s history, at what was clearly a very difficult time for him personally. He will be deeply missed and the thoughts of everyone at IHG Hotels & Resorts are with Arne’s wife and children, and all those at Marriott at this desperately sad time.”

Harry Javer, founder/president, The Lodging Conference: “Arne was kind and compassionate, a brilliant CEO, and a great leader, a humanitarian and an all-around great guy. He was one of the few people that could hold a large room enrapt. Nobody would leave their seat or even look down at their phone when Arne was on a stage because you would not want to miss a word. He always found time to speak to you one-on-one, and you knew that he truly cared about you.”

Tom Corcoran, president of TCOR Hotel Partners: “Arne will be remembered as being a very nice guy. He always made people comfortable and treated everyone as an equal. This is a true mark of a leader where everyone who has had the honor of meeting Arne felt that unique chemistry and charm, and it was easy for Arne as he was just being himself. Arnie will be remembered as a visionary in our industry and transforming a great company into a greater company.”

Mike Leven: “A long time ago (2008) I tried to recruit Arne to be the president of Las Vegas Sands. He said, ‘No, I am too loyal to those who run Marriott.’ In 2014, I tried to recruit Arne again to replace me at Las Vegas Sands. He said again, ‘I am loyal to the leadership at Marriott.’ I never in the 60 years I have been around this business ever met anyone who compared to him as an executive, a leader, and just a wonderful human being. How lucky we have been to share him in our business. He cannot be replaced and will be sorely missed.”

Jonathan Tisch, chairman/CEO of Loews Hotels & Co.: “The hospitality industry has sadly lost an exemplary leader in Arne Sorenson. Arne was one of the finest people I have had the pleasure to work with and know, and a remarkable ambassador for our industry. I respected him not just for his business success, but for the kind of individual he was, someone who cared deeply for the men and women of Marriott and for the communities where they operate hotels. Arne recognized the powerful and positive impact of travel and tourism and gave time and resources to strengthen it for the benefit of others. I am saddened by his sudden loss, and on behalf of my colleagues and team members of Loews Hotels & Co, we extend our sincerest sympathies to Arne’s wife and family. May his memory be a blessing.”

Jim Alderman, CEO, Americas, Radisson Hotel Group: “The entire industry is deeply saddened by the news of Arne Sorenson’s passing. As a true servant leader, consummate gentleman and genuinely caring human being, Arne was a shining light of hospitality who positively impacted so many lives throughout his career. The Radisson Hotel Group team extends our condolences to the Sorenson family, Marriott International team members around the world and everyone whose life he impacted.”

Sébastien Bazin, chairman/CEO, Accor, said: “I was extremely sad to hear of Arne’s passing earlier today. He was someone who I admired and respected on so many levels; a true leader and visionary. His business acumen was second to none, but beyond that he was a remarkably empathetic man who cared deeply about our industry and the people in it. I will deeply miss his leadership, his wit and the passion he brought to our industry.”

Don Welsh, president/CEO, Destinations International: “Arne symbolized what is truly special about working in the hospitality industry. He was a brilliant leader speaker and hotelier in every capacity and was instrumental in driving Marriott’s global growth. More importantly, Arne had the gift and desire to make personal connections with everyone he met. Those personal connections will keep his legacy alive and cherished by those who had the privilege to meet him along the journey. We send our prayers to his family and Marriott associates around the world.”

Hotel Business will be updating the story as more reactions become available. 

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