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 in the travel industry in the past year, has died aged 62.
Mr Sorenson reduced his schedule at Marriott this month to pursue a more aggressive cancer treatment.
He was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2019.
JW Marriott Jr, the company’s executive chairman, said Mr Sorenson loved every aspect of the hotel business and relished travelling and meeting employees around the world.
“Arne was an exceptional executive – but more than that – he was an exceptional human being,” said Marriott in a statement.
Mr Sorenson was the first Marriott chief executive whose name was not Marriott, and only the third to lead the company in its 93-year history.
He joined the company, based in Bethesda, Maryland, in 1996, leaving behind a partnership in a Washington law firm where he specialised in mergers and acquisitions.
Mr Sorenson 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 dollar (£9.3 billion) acquisition of Starwood Hotels in 2016.
Mr Sorenson 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%, Mr Sorenson remained optimistic.
I am deeply saddened to hear about the loss of Arne Sorenson. He was a wonderful leader who led with empathy, integrity and authenticity. Sending my heartfelt condolences to the Sorenson and @MarriottIntl family.
— Mary Barra (@mtbarra) February 16, 2021
“The fact of the matter is, people love to travel. They love to travel for themselves personally and they love to travel for work,” Mr 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 from business and civic leaders in the US, including Maryland governor Larry Hogan and US Representative Jamie Raskin.
CNBC host Jim Cramer said in a Twitter post that Mr 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 chief executive Mary Barra tweeted.
Mr Sorenson served on Microsoft’s board of directors as well as the board of directors for the Special Olympics.
When he 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 chief executive, which is expected to happen within two weeks, the company said.
Mr Sorenson is survived by his wife, Ruth, and four adult children.