Marriott Chief Executive Arne Sorenson, who grew the company into the world’s largest hotel chain and steered it through a global pandemic that has been catastrophic for the travel industry, has died. He was 62.
Sorenson reduced his schedule at Marriott this month to pursue a more aggressive cancer treatment. He was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2019; a recent routine scan had confirmed the cancer had returned, the company said.
JW Marriott Jr, the company’s executive chairman, said Sorenson loved every aspect of the hotel business and relished travelling and meeting employees around the world. Marriott has 30 hotel brands, including Ritz-Carlton, Sheraton and Westin, and more than 7,000 properties worldwide.
“Arne was an exceptional executive – but more than that – he was an exceptional human being,” said Marriott said in a prepared statement Tuesday.
Sorenson was the first Marriott CEO whose name was not Marriott, and only the third to lead the company in its 93-year history.
Sorenson joined the Bethesda, Maryland, company in 1996, leaving behind a partnership in a Washington law firm where he specialized in mergers and acquisitions. He rose to president and chief operating officer before he was named CEO in 2012.
After becoming Marriott's top executive, he oversaw the $13 billion acquisition of Starwood Hotels in 2016. He pushed the international chain to become more sustainable while also trying to combat human trafficking. He advocated for gay rights and opposed President Donald Trump’s 2017 ban on travel from majority Muslim countries
Even at the depths of the coronavirus pandemic, when Marriott’s revenue plunged more than 70%, Sorenson remained optimistic.
“The fact of the matter is, people love to travel. They love to travel for themselves personally and they love to travel for work,” Sorenson said in November. “It’s often the most interesting and it’s the place they’re going to learn the most.”
Tributes poured in Tuesday from business and civic leaders, including Maryland Gov Larry Hogan and US Rep Jamie Raskin. CNBC host Jim Cramer said in a Twitter post that Sorenson believed business was the greatest source for social change.
“He was a wonderful leader who led with empathy, integrity and authenticity,” General Motors Chairman and CEO Mary Barra tweeted.
Airbnb founder and CEO Brian Chesky, who might have been considered a rival in the competitive hospitality industry, said Sorenson had always been helpful to him. Sorenson and Chesky spent time hosting each others' leadership teams, Chesky said, and the two CEOs supported each other during the pandemic.
“He will be missed,” Chesky tweeted.
Sorenson served on Microsoft's board of directors as well as the board of directors for the Special Olympics.
When Sorenson stepped back from full-time duties this month, Marriott turned to two veteran executives, Stephanie Linnartz and Tony Capuano, to oversee day-to-day operations. They will continue in those roles until Marriott’s board names a new CEO, which is expected to happen within two weeks, the company said.
Sorenson is survived by his wife, Ruth, and four adult children.