Reflecting back on Marriott's 80 years in the hospitality industry, one word summarizes our company's enduring success: opportunity. This weekend in San Francisco, I'm challenging our JW Marriott, Marriott and Renaissance General Managers from around the world to look for opportunities for their associates to grow and build careers within Marriott. When your employees see personal opportunity, the company thrives, and that has helped Marriott get to where it is today. At the recent Residence Inn and TownePlace Suites General Managers Conference in San Antonio, I shared with all the General Managers the following story about an opportunity my father was fortunate enough to receive.
In 1921, my father returned from his mission for the Mormon Church in the eastern part of the United States, back to Ogden, Utah. When he got home, he found that his father was broke. He had borrowed heavily - he had a big herd of sheep in Ogden. He had borrowed $14 a head on the sheep - they were worth about $3.50 - and he had no money to pay off the loan, so the bank foreclosed on him and took his sheep. He had nothing left. My father realized that his father was going to be working for the bank for the rest of his life. My dad also knew that the only way out for him personally was to have an education. He knew he had to study and learn how to think. He was certainly willing to work hard, but he knew he couldn't make it in the marketplace without an education.
He needed a college education and the money to pay for it. He didn't have either one. He had come home from his mission with $4 in his pocket. He thought about high school credits - he didn't have any of those either. Every year he had to leave school to take care of the sheep as they roamed the winter range in the Nevada mountains. And in the spring, he returned home to the farm to help with the spring planning.
In his biography, Robert O'Brien said, "One afternoon, Bill Marriott went to see Aaron Tracy. It was like finding a trail in the desert, a trail that would lead him out of the wasteland." Tracy was a great teacher and college administrator. He was a professor of English at Weber College. He liked my dad and he realized what a great struggle it had been for my father to get an education. In fact, he helped my dad go from the 6th to the 7th grade. I don't think my dad ever really went much further until he got with Aaron Tracy when he was 21.
Almost all his education was self taught. Aaron Tracy gave him an opportunity. He forgot about the fact that he didn't have any high school credits and he helped him make them up. He helped him find odd jobs around the college that would provide his full tuition. Each day, my father would get up at four o'clock in the morning, do his homework and study, and then get on his horse or take his horse and buggy, travel five miles across Ogden to Weber College. After class, he spent the afternoon selling ads for the yearbook and for the college newspaper. And in the evening, he worked until the bookstore closed every night. Adding to all this, he was Student Body President and he was one of three returned missionaries to teach a theology class.
When he graduated from Weber, Aaron Tracy shook his hand and he said, "Forward, my boy, forward." Tears came to my father's eyes. The first stage of the journey, perhaps the toughest, was behind him. He worked the next two or three summers selling woolen goods to the loggers in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and then finally entered the University of Utah and graduated in 1926.
In May of 1927 he married my mother. They came to Washington in a Model T Ford and opened up a nine stool A&W root beer stand. Of course, when the weather got cold, people stopped buying root beer. So, they put on chili and hot tamales and hamburgers and hot dogs, and the Hot Shoppe was born. And of course, we'll celebrate that 80th anniversary this spring.
I often wonder what would have happened if Aaron Tracy had not given my father an opportunity; an opportunity to learn and get a college education. I don't think my father would have ever left Utah had he not had the self confidence which came from having a good education. He would've never come to Washington to open that root beer stand. And without that little root beer stand, we would not be where we are today.