Marriott – Good Business Sense

J Willard and Alice Marriott were the first two employees when they opened up their 9-seat root beer stand, in Washington, D.C., in the late 1920’s. That little root beer stand mushroomed into what became the largest chain of restaurants in the Washington, D.C. area The Hot Shoppes. That, in turn, developed into an in flight catering business, contract food service for offices, schools, and hospitals and, in 1957, the hotel business (see photos, pages 6 and 7). Today, Host Marriott and Marriott International have a combined lodging portfolio which includes more than 800 hotels. And, they have a combined total of over 200,000 employees. Approximately 6% of that work force is comprised of people with identified disabilities. Experience has shown them that the costs associated with physical accommodations are minimal and that extended training time and/or job modifications sometimes needed are more than offset by long-term productivity.

Marriott Ownership Resorts is planning a universal design for new properties, making every room accessible. The enactment of the ADA reaffirmed Marriott’s commitment to seeking qualified with disabilities. Marriott sees in their success with the employment of people with disabilities responsibility to use a their experience and resources to help other companies experience the same success. In late 1989 the Marriott family established the Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities: its goal is to

foster the employment of young people with disabilities. They have implemented this goal in the form of programs which support internships for students with disabilities in their last year of high school. “Bridges…From School To Work” is one such program.

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CC: What is the basic operating philosophy of the Marriott?

RM: My parents started the company in 1927. They had a very basic business philosophy. They said you’ve got to serve the customer a quality product at a fair price, and give them good service. And, they said you’ve got to have good people working for you, and you’ve got to take good care of those people. The theory is if your keep your employees happy, then they will take care of your customers and keep them happy. Then, the customers will keep coming back.

We are in a very labor intensive business. I think that the food service and lodging businesses are the most labor-intensive businesses in the country. And, as a result, we have a tremendous amount of employees. Our combined companies, Marriott Host and Marriott International, have a total of about 200,000) employees. That probably makes us the ninth or tenth largest employer in the United States. A large portion of these employees, about 25% of them, are part-time employees. And also, a large percentage of these employees are wage earners, not members of management. And so, we have a tremendous task in making sure that these employees are happy. well trained, well motivated, and really do a good job in taking care of the customers. The most important thing we can do for our employees, to keep them happy, is to make sure they are capable and well trained. Then they have a lot of self-confidence, and they can deal better with the customers.

So we spend an awful lot of time working with our people. As I say, this is not a Food Business serving people, this is a People Business, serving food. And we always have to count our associates and our employees as our number one resource and number one asset. We’ve always been a very people-oriented company. So, I think the hiring of people with disabilities fits in very well with my father’s basic premise that we are a people company.

The Hot Shoppes and 1st Marriott hotel and catering service
The Hot Shoppes and 1st Marriott hotel and catering service

CC: When did you first realize that hiring people with disabilities was in sync with the companies’ philosophy?

RM: We have always hired people with disabilities because we have always looked at what the capabilities of people are, not their disabilities. And when you’re working with people who are in turn working with your customers. really it depends on how well those people can get along with other people. We have found that people with a disability often times are even more capable of dealing with adversity, and dealing with other people, and dealing with new types of experiences, than almost any other segment of the population. People with disabilities relate very well to other people, and really work very well with our guests and with their fellow employees. So, we have always given equal opportunity to people with disabilities. We don’t look at their disabilities, we look at what they can do in a job. And we find that in a hotel or in a restaurant, there is always a job that is available to a person with a certain disability, that type of disability is. You’ve got to tailor the job to the disability, obviously, and to the capabilities of the people, but it is almost always possible to find a job which will fit with someone who has a disability of some sort.

CC: Is this unique and are you dealing with other organizations?

RM: Well, we try and deal with a lot of organizations throughout the country. I am not sure that it is unique. The Marriott Marquis Program is a very strong program which allows us to work with people with disabilities in the work place, and to see how they perform and what they do well, before we hire them. I think this is a very important thing for the people with disabilities, especially. We want to make sure that when we are bringing them into the work place, we are putting them in a place where they will do well, and not where they’ll fail. If you can bring folks in and train them, before you hire them, rather than hiring someone and hoping that they will work out in the job, you have got a lot better chance of making a successful work experience for that person.

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So, in the Goodwill Project, down at the Marriott Marquis in Atlanta, we bring people with disabilities in, and they are trained in the hospitality industry in various jobs throughout the hotel. Almost every job in the hotel is open somebody with to a disability. These folks are trained working with the supervisors, and if we have a need for someone in that department, we may offer them a job. If we don’t, we will see that someone else will offer them a job. They are basically being trained in hospitality, not necessarily the Marriott. We are basically providing a training place for them, in the work force. It is much more effective training someone in an actual place of business, than it is training them in a classroom. Here, they get everyday actual work experience. And so, when they go out into the real work force, possibly another company, they will be much better prepared. We train them not only in how to get along in a particular job, but on interviewing techniques, on how to get along with people, how to present themselves, personal appearance, and everything else. This pertains to any body who. wants to get in the work force, not just people with a disability. So these folks really do finish up their job training at the Marriott Marquis with some basic skills, which will allow them to go out and interview for a job somewhere, or to take a particular kind of hospitality job in another hotel or some place else in the Marriott. So, it is a great program. Goodwill cooperated with us very heavily, and they have been a great partner for us.

We have tried to develop these partnerships with organizations like Goodwill, throughout the country. We keep track of which are the best organizations to work with, for people with disabilities, and we line up our operations, wherever they may be in the country, with these organizations. Almost every city has a number of different organizations that are looking for. businesses such as ours that work with and help hire people with disabilities. Our job, now, is to find the best ones, the ones that work best in the hospitality industry, and get together with these folks, and have them work. with our operations people.

Marriott's Atlanta Marquis
Marriott’s Atlanta Marquis

CC: Are each of your operations similar, for the most part, or is the Atlanta Project unique?

RM: It’s different in almost any place you go. I think the one in Atlanta is probably a little unique in that the training is taking place right in the hotel. We are providing an area to train these folks. In many other cases, they’re trained in special facilities. I think it’s much more effective to be trained in an actual work place than in a specially designed facility. because it’s part of the “real world”. We can train people in our facilities throughout the world. We’ve started a program called Bridges. The purpose of the program is to help seniors and special education classes in high schools to transition into the work force. There are about 250,000 of these special education students throughout the country. Well over 50% of these students will never get a part-time job after they graduate from high school. Most of them don’t have jobs while they are in high school. So, they go through all of these special education classes; they are very well educated. They are very well trained; and, they will never get a job.

And so we started the “Bridges” Program. The first thing we do basically is hire an organization in the local area, for instance. TransCen, here in Montgomery County. TransCen is an organization developed specifically to work with people with disabilities, they help train them, and then help with job counseling to get them into the work place. Then we go to the high schools and school districts and we have them identify students in special education classes that really want to work. Next, we have a special training class for the students, their parents, and job coaches. And also, we go out and recruit companies that want to hire people with disabilities and we get them to bring in their supervisors who will be working with these youths into these training classes where we train supervisors, parents, youths and job counselors. This way everybody knows what to expect. Then we get these companies to commit to providing an internship for a person with a disability for six weeks or 120 days. At the end of that internship. the only obligation on the part of that company is to pay the student for working there, whatever it is. minimum wage, or above minimum wage, whatever the job-rate they are paying. They don’t have to pay for the training classes; they don’t have to pay for the job counseling. So we just get these kids into the work force on a 90 day, or 120 day trial, and then the company can offer them a full time job at the end of the internship. Most cases, I’d say 70% or 80%, these kids are offered full time employment after their internship.

CC. It sounds like you are really having an impact. In what locations are your programs running right now?

RM: We are working in the Washington, D.C. area, in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Mateo, and we are hoping to open up some more programs in several other states. We have about 900, almost 1000 kids right now and I’d say 70% of these people are helped to find jobs at the end of the program. So, it has been extremely successful. In some of these cities. in San Francisco, for example, we have helped more than 80% of all special education students to find jobs through the Bridges program. It has been tremendously successful. “Bridges” helps a very high percentage of all special education students. So, we really are having an impact..

CC: How long has the “Bridges” Program been going on?

RM: We started in 1989. “Bridges” started here in Montgomery County with TransCen. and then moved to Chicago, then Sant Francisco, and then to Washington, D.C., and then it moved to Los Angeles. So, we are working basically in five areas, and we work directly with the school districts in these areas, and with our local organization that can administer the program for us. We use TransCen here, we use the University of San Francisco in San Francisco, University of Chicago, downtown.

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CC: So you’ve been able to use this as a resource yourself to hire people with disabilities.

RM: Yes, but, because we already hire so many people with disabilities, the main purpose of the program, really, is to get other companies in these cities to hire people with disabilities. We have a really strong recruiting program with other companies. We go around and talk to other companies, and introduce them to the program, invite them to breakfasts, and training sessions, and get them committed to working with these young people with disabilities, and providing internships for them.

CC: What do you think is the general attitude, in terms of small businesses, with regards to the ADA?

Richard Marriott speaking with Chet Cooper
Richard Marriott speaking with Chet Cooper

RM: I think the attitude is much better. I think people are starting to understand the capabilities of people with disabilities. The big problem I always saw before was that people were afraid of people with disabilities. They didn’t know how to handle them. They didn’t know how to interview them. They didn’t know how to get them in a job. They didn’t know how to train them. And they were just scared of them. You’re always scared of something that you’re not familiar with, and we’re not familiar with them. And, this program of ours basically gets these folks familiar with people with disabilities, with what they can do, and what they can’t do. And when they understand that and get people on their own staff trained to work with people with disabilities, they find that “hey these are great employees!” They can be a tremendous asset to the company. And then they get very enthusiastic in that area. It’s an educational process.

CC: The biggest problem dealing with disabilities is ignorance. We have a T-shirt that says ABILITY Magazine on the front, and on the back, it says, “Shattering the Myths” It’s all education.

RM: It is all education. If you understand it, and are used to being around people with disabilities, then there is no fear. And, you know that they are great people, and they can do a good job. They may look a little different than we do, and they may act a little different than we do, but it is just a matter of being familiar with them, and knowing how to work with them, and relate to them. They are some of the best employees we have in our company.

CC: Do you see people with disabilities also as a new market?

RM: Yes. It has always been a strong market. We have always tried to accommodate people with disabilities, especially in our hotels. Since the ADA, of course, we have been forced to be even more cognizant of what their needs are, and making sure that we upgrade our existing operations to accommodate those needs. We have always felt it is very important to take care of people with disabilities. Now if we have a big group, and we have two or three people out of one hundred people who have severe disabilities, who can’t use our hotels because we don’t provide whatever it is that is needed to accommodate them, then we might lose that whole group. It just makes good business sense to be able to accommodate people with disabilities. And when you do accommodate them, and take good care of them, they become very loyal customers. And they start telling everyone else what a great operation you are, and you pick up other people, not only people who have disabilities, but other people. that are their friends, who don’t have disabilities.

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So, it is very good. sense to try to business accommodate people with disabilities. According to government guidelines, almost 10% of the work force has a disability of some sort or another. That is a huge market. And you can’t afford, in this day and age, to neglect any of the market segments: out there. The most important thing, though, for those with disabilities, is that they’re a good source of employees. Our business, the food service business. and the service industry, as a whole, is growing faster than the labor force is. Our need for workers and labor, in the next fifteen years, will grow by 30%, and the work force will only grow by 20%.

CC: Is that entry level positions mostly?

RM: No. That is all positions, management positions, every kind of position. And it is very important for us to tap new sources of employees. The work force is getting older, and it is getting more culturally diverse. So we have got to not only be able deal with the second language problems and other things that come with that, but we’ve got to tap new segments of the work force. And people with disabilities are probably the largest minority segment of the work force there is.

The Lobby of Marriott's Desert Springs Resort
he Lobby of Marriott’s Desert Springs Resort

CC: Your company being international, is there anything going on outside of the United States?

RM: Not much, not nearly as much as we have going in the United States, that we have been able to detect. I’m sure it will come to that, but we have not seen as much of it. We obviously do not have the same policies abroad as we do here. I think the emphasis on people with disabilities is far greater here, in the United States, than it has anywhere else that we operate. But we would like to make it a focus of our operations throughout the world and hopefully we can be a leader abroad as we have been here.

CC: I know that most of the major industrial countries are looking at the ADA to see if they are going to take a portion of it, or all of it, into their law.

RM: It makes good sense for all of them to do it. All countries have a lot of people with disabilities. It just makes good business sense to adopt. the ADA.

CC: Is there anything else you would like to add?

RM: I would like to reconfirm that we are committed to working with people with disabilities, and they are great. In our company, we have what is called a J. Willard Marriott Award of Excellence, which we give to 16 or 18 of our BEST employees, those people that best represent the philosophy of the Marriott. And almost every year, at least one of those people is a person with disabilities.

CC: That’s a high percentage, for as many people as you have.

RM: So, we do appreciate these people. They really do a good job for us. Not only do they do a good job in their own right, but they really improve the morale of the employees with whom they work. They are a very positive influence on our work force and on our customers. So, we are solidly in favor of working with and doing whatever we can to help people with disabilities.

The Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities: Bridges Program

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