Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson dies after battle with most cancers

Arne Sorenson, who turned Marriott International into the world’s largest hotel chain after acquiring Starwood Hotels & Resorts in a $13 billion deal in 2016, has died. He was 62 and had been undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer, the company announced Tuesday.

Sorenson, the third CEO in Marriott’s history and the first outside the founding family, died Monday, the company said.

Sorenson expanded Marriott’s presence worldwide under dozens of brands, including W Hotels, Ritz-Carlton, Courtyard and Sheraton.

In the past year, he had to lead the business through the Covid pandemic, which has brought most global and domestic travel to a standstill.

Sorenson, who took the CEO role in 2012, was the son of a Lutheran missionary. He was born in Japan but later grew up in Minnesota.

He studied religion and business at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, where he graduated in 1980. He went on to earn a law degree at the University of Minnesota, which opened the door to more career opportunities.

Out of school, Sorenson joined the law firm Latham & Watkins in Washington, D.C. While he was a partner there, one of his clients was Marriott.

Bill Marriott, son of Marriott’s founder J. Willard Marriott, ending up convincing Sorenson to join his hotel business in 1996, as associate general counsel. Later roles included senior vice president for business development, CFO, and finally CEO.

“Arne was an exceptional executive – but more than that – he was an exceptional human being,” said J.W. Marriott Jr., executive chairman and chairman of the board. “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.”

The hotel operator had announced in May 2019 that Sorenson had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Earlier this month, it shared the news that the CEO would be temporarily cutting back his work schedule to accommodate more demanding treatment.

Earlier this year, Marriott tapped two executives – Stephanie Linnartz, group president of consumer operations, technology and emerging businesses; and Tony Capuano, group president of global development, design and operations services – to oversee day-to-day operations, filling in for Sorenson.

The company said Tuesday that Linnartz and Capuano will continue to do so until the board appoints a new CEO, which is expected to be within two weeks.

Marriott shares were up less than 1% in premarket trading Tuesday, having fallen about 12% over the past 12 months. The hotel operator has a market cap of nearly $42 billion.

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