When Aspiration Meets Opportunity

One of the most satisfying and heart-warming experiences of my life has played out over the last 32 years and continues today. It goes back to my Marriott days and involved the discovery and recruitment of a recent college graduate, his entry into Marriott's management training program and his rise from waiter to president of North America Lodging Operations and Global Brand Management.

It started one night in 1975 when my wife, Mary, and I went out for dinner at Marriott's Phineas Prime Rib in Springfield, VA. As soon as we sat down, we noticed the name tag of our server, Bob McCarthy. This led us to the discovery that we both graduated from Villanova University and, all of a sudden, I became very interested in Bob's future. At this point, he had worked for the F.B.I. as a clerk for six weeks following graduation, but advancement was on hold until a permanent slot opened up.

When I asked if he had ever considered the hotel industry, Bob indicated that his dad had been a special agent of the F.B.I. and he had always thought he would follow in his footsteps. Several nights later we returned and continued our conversation. Then, after introducing him to the head of our management training division, Bob joined Marriott and started his rise via 13 positions and seven geographic moves before landing back at Marriott's Washington, D.C. headquarters.

I recently interviewed Bob because even an old-timer like me could learn much from a person like Bob McCarthy.


Bob stressed the importance of working for a company that provides the leadership and opportunities to move ahead. Without opportunity, the most talented person in the world doesn't progress. In Marriott, Bob found a company that provided the perfect springboard for his career and a role model in Bill Marriott. The idea that really hit home to me as Bob talked was that talented people with the right companies will succeed.

I thought of three talented people I know who will never become really successful as long as they stay with the companies they picked. The key is to look at the company's record and see if others have been truly successful. Throughout Bob's career with Marriott, he found a company that provides the motivation and growth we all look for.

“I can't stress enough the importance of opportunities and personal career growth — everyone needs that,” he says. “The best companies always provide that, and that's why they get, and tend to retain, the best people. We had one lodging brand, Marriott Hotels, when I joined the company. Today, with the recently announced boutique and Nickelodeon businesses, we have 18 brands in multiple categories.”

Bob views the environment at Marriott as very motivating: “The pace of business never stands still, and our future looks even brighter. The ‘balanced scorecard’ of taking care of associates, guests and owners is a stimulating challenge and a rewarding management responsibility.

“We spend a lot of time living up to our philosophy of ‘if you take good care of your associates, they will take good care of the guests, and the guests will come back again and again.’

“Another one of the driving philosophies of the company and our founders J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott is that ‘success is never final.’ It's not just a saying; it's the heart and soul of continuous self-improvement and improvement of the business.”

Bob says he learned a number of important lessons during his career:

  • “When developing your personal leadership style, always look to emulate the best of those you work with, and discard the worst.

  • “Learn from all your bumps in the road; adversity makes you stronger and provides lessons that you couldn't learn in any other way.

  • “Always face difficulties head-on; don't procrastinate or assume they will go away.

  • “You can learn something from almost everyone — never let your ego or your success stand in the way of appreciating everyone's value.

  • “Seek constant input from others, and build trust. Be firm and fair and display courage in your decisionmaking. Your team is counting on you.”


Another treat for me was to interview another person from whom I learned much when I was with Marriott, J.W. “Bill” Marriott. When I asked him to give me his comments on Bob's most important strengths as he moved up the ladder, Bill mentioned several items without hesitation. Based on Bill's comments, it's not difficult to determine what strengths are important to him.

“Bob has done a great job,” said Marriott. “He's very insightful and has a thorough knowledge of the business across all the disciplines.

“With Bob, everything is well-thought-out as to how you execute. That's of huge value. Implementation is always key, and he gets it done; there are a lot of people to please — owners, franchisees, managers and associates — and he's great at it.”

Among other comments from Bill Marriott about Bob McCarthy:

  • “He's very good with his people; he's a good communicator and his people have great respect for him. He listens well and expresses himself well.

  • “Bob has a lot of energy; he's a hard worker, and that's key to the nature of our business and the size of our business. He has a huge responsibility.

  • “Bob always follows up and follows through. You can count on his word and his work. We are glad — and fortunate — he has spent his entire career with us.”

Regarding his last comment, I must add something unusual that I experienced during my first meeting with Bob to discuss this article. During the course of our conversation, I mentioned three ex-Marriott people with whom I had lost contact. He said he had their addresses and phone numbers and would send them to me. Less than two days later, the addresses and phone numbers arrived by e-mail and I was shocked because most people don't keep this kind of promise. In fact, I don't remember anyone following up so quickly on a casual promise of this kind.

Bob calls it his 360 Review, which he completes every two years. The review is a survey of the strengths and weaknesses of each team member, including the leader, by the team and a personal development plan to improve areas as indicated.

“The impact of sharing strengths and vulnerabilities helps to build a much closer bond and commitment between team members and the leader,” says Bob.

Tom McCarthy, CHME, CHA, spent half his career with Hilton and Marriott in sales, advertising and public relations and half in his own training and consulting business, Hotel Professional Education and Consulting of Falls Church, VA. He is a past president of Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI) and is a member of the HSMAI Hall of Fame. He can be reached at ttmccarthy@cox.net or 703-931-0757.

Career Highlights

Bob McCarthy has 32 years experience with Marriott and holds a BS Degree/Business Administration from Villanova University and completed the Advanced Management Program at the Wharton School of Business.

From joining Marriott as a restaurant server, he rose quickly to supervisor, housekeeping manager and sales manager. He then served in a variety of sales and marketing capacities in the New York and New Jersey areas. Soon, he was a regional director of sales & marketing for Marriott in Dallas and then director of marketing for Marriott Suite Hotels and Marriott Compact Hotels at company headquarters in Bethesda, MD.

From here, McCarthy held a variety of vice president posts in both marketing and operations for the Fairfield and Courtyard brands. By the mid-1990s, he was part of a strategy team assessing new business opportunities for Marriott, followed by a stint as senior vice president of Marriott's northeast U.S. region. Between 2003 and 2005, he was executive vice president of North American Lodging Operations. In 2006, he was named president of the group.

Earlier this year, McCarthy added global brand management to his title.

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