Marriott CEO: What My Deep Fryer Accident Taught Me about Hotel Management

billmarriott.jpgOur hotel-related dispatches usually involve news of wacky new establishments or mourning the wrong-headed renovations of old ones, but today we turn our attention to John Willard “Bill” Marriott, Jr., chairman and CEO of Marriott International—and blogger. Today on his “Marriott on the Move” blog, he reflects on the origins of the notorious attention to detail that leads him to personally visit about 300 Marriott hotels a year and subject each to his own “version of the “‘white glove test.'” Was this trait seeded by his upbringing as the son of Marriott’s founder, boarding school education, or service in the Navy? Nope. It had to be that accident with the deep fryer during college.

I was working back in the kitchen [of one of his father’s chain of Hot Shoppes in Salt Lake City] on an afternoon after school and was assigned the task of cleaning out the deep fat fryers. I accidentally poured soapy water, instead of oil, into the top of the fryer. There was still a small amount of hot oil in the fryer and it mixed with the soap, which overflowed the fryer onto the countertop, the kitchen floor, and me.

What a mess! It took me an hour to clean it up. I felt really stupid and my coworkers let me know that they agreed with me. I quickly learned that if I had been paying more attention to what I was doing and what I was pouring into the fryer, that whole mess never would’ve happened.

“From then on, I’ve tried hard to pay attention to the little things,” writes Marriott, whose blog attracts feedback ranging from general praise and pointed critiques of the company’s hotels (pro: “family focus but not corny and stupid,” con: “lagging on the bath towels”) to sympathies with his focus on the little things. “I too share your sentiments of being a sticker,” wrote commenter Candis, calling her own sticklerness into question. Having enjoyed Marriott’s lesson from the deep fryer, we can’t help but wonder: Can the revelation of Conrad Hilton‘s formative experience with a recalcitrant band saw be far behind?