Arne Sorenson, who led Marriott International to become the world's biggest hotel chain after the US$13 billion acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts in 2016, has passed away unexpectedly on 15 February following a battle with pancreatic cancer.
Sorenson, 62, had been battling pancreatic cancer for the past two years. On 2 February, Marriott announced that he would temporarily reduce his schedule to facilitate more demanding treatment for pancreatic cancer.
In a personal email to Marriott International associates on the same day, Sorenson talked about the announcement of his cancer in May 2019, and how a later "routine scan indicated that the cancer I’d been fighting is still present".
"While I have worked throughout my treatment to date and plan to remain as engaged in the business as my health allows, the right thing to do for me, my family and the company is to temporarily step back from the full-time management of Marriott.
"In the nearly two years since I shared my diagnosis with you, I have been sustained by your well wishes, your care and concern. I asked you at that time to look forward with me. And I’m asking you to do that again. I, along with my family and my medical team, remain optimistic and I look forward to when I can return full-time. Until that day, stay focused, stay strong and let’s do great work together," his note urged.
Sorenson became the third CEO in Marriott's history in 2012, and the first without the Marriott surname.
In addition to overseeing the company's growth — and grappling with a pandemic that threatened its trajectory — Sorenson was well known for his leadership on difficult national and global issues. During his tenure as CEO, he had steered Marriott to make significant progress on diversity, equity and inclusion, environmental sustainability and human trafficking awareness.
"Arne was an exceptional executive – but more than that – he was an exceptional human being," said JW Marriott, Jr, executive chairman and chairman of the board, in a statement. "Arne loved every aspect of this business and relished time spent touring our hotels and meeting associates around the world. He had an uncanny ability to anticipate where the hospitality industry was headed and position Marriott for growth. But the roles he relished the most were as husband, father, brother and friend.
"On behalf of the Board and Marriott's hundreds of thousands of associates around the world, we extend our heartfelt condolences to Arne's wife and four children. We share your heartbreak, and we will miss Arne deeply."
When Sorenson stepped back from full-time management in early February, Stephanie Linnartz, group president, consumer operations, technology and emerging businesses, and Tony Capuano, group president, global development, design and operations services, has been tasked to share responsibility for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the company's business units and corporate functions, in addition to maintaining their current responsibilities.
Linnartz and Capuano will continue in this capacity until the Marriott Board appoints a new CEO, which is expected to be within the next two weeks.
Tributes have poured in swiftly following Sorensen's unexpected passing.
Chris Nassetta, president & CEO of Hilton, said, "I am deeply saddened by the heartbreaking news of Arne Sorenson’s passing. He was an incredibly respected man, a leader in hospitality, and a devoted husband, father and friend. It’s been a true honour to work alongside him on behalf of our great industry for so many years, and I will miss him and the friendship we’ve built. On behalf of everyone at Hilton I want to extend my condolences to the Sorenson family, the thousands of Marriott International associates around the world and the countless people whose lives he has positively impacted over the years."
Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella spoke of Sorenson's "service to our board and mentorship over the years," calling him "a servant leader and a person of great humility".
Also remembering Sorenson's heart for the people was Scott Kirby, CEO at United Airlines. "When asked what he hoped his legacy will be, he once said: 'The truth is we accomplish nothing by ourselves; success is purely through our people and our teams.' Arne, the United Airlines family stands strong with the Marriott family through this incredibly difficult time. Your leadership, humility and grace will be missed, not just within our industry, but across the globe."
Geoffrey Kent, founder and co-chairman of Abercrombie & Kent, said, "My partner Manfredi and I were saddened to hear about the passing of our dear friend Arne Sorenson. We worked closely with him at the World Travel & Tourism Council where he made many important contributions to our industry. He travelled with Abercrombie & Kent and I especially remember his tremendous smile when he conquered Mount Kilimanjaro. We will miss his warmth, wonderful personality and friendship."