Arne M. Sorenson, the Minnesotan who led Marriott International for nearly a decade, has died. He was 62.
Sorenson became the first outsider chief executive of Marriott in 2012 and is best known for overseeing its 2016 purchase of Starwood Hotels and Resorts, which turned Marriott into the world's biggest hotel chain with 30 brands and more than 7,000 properties.
But Sorenson, who grew up in St. Paul as one of four children of a Lutheran minister and special education teacher, was also well-known for connecting with people at all levels of the company and even with competitors.
"In too many parts of our society, we can see that our self-interest will be enhanced if we are driving conflict as opposed to driving people together," Sorenson said in a 2019 speech.
"And we want very much to be an example of something different, where everybody is welcome to our company to be an associate with us. Everybody is welcome to be a guest in our hotels."
Sorenson died of pancreatic cancer Monday. He stepped back from his full-time work earlier this month for more treatments of the cancer, which was diagnosed in 2019.
Tributes poured in Tuesday from business and civic leaders. Airbnb founder and CEO Brian Chesky, whose company has posed a competitive challenge to hotels over the past decade, said Sorenson had always been helpful to him. "He will be missed," Chesky wrote on Twitter.
Mary Barra, chairwoman and chief executive of General Motors, tweeted, "He was a wonderful leader who led with empathy, integrity and authenticity."
J.W. "Bill" Marriott, who led the Bethesda, Md.-based company from 1972 to 2012, called Sorenson an "exceptional executive, but more than that, he was an exceptional human being."
"Arne loved every aspect of this business and relished time spent touring our hotels and meeting associates around the world," Marriott said. "He had an uncanny ability to anticipate where the hospitality industry was headed and position Marriott for growth."
Marriott hired Sorenson, then an attorney in Washington, to the company in 1996. Sorenson later became a senior executive in business development and then chief financial officer.
When Sorenson succeeded Marriott as CEO, he became just the third leader in company history. Marriott's father, J. Willard Marriott, started the firm in 1927 and led it until 1972.
Sorenson was born in Tokyo, one of four children of Lutheran missionaries. He grew up in St. Paul, where he attended Murray High School.
He went to Luther College in Iowa, then earned a law degree at the University of Minnesota Law School and began his career at the Latham & Watkins law firm in Washington.
One of his classmates at the U was his older sister; they received their degrees in 1983. "I've lost not only a dear brother but a dear friend," said his sister Mary Ranum, partner and former chairwoman of Fredrikson & Byron in Minneapolis.
"He was, like our father, able to connect with people in a way that reflected his concern and caring for them," Ranum said. "People are attracted to somebody like that. He had the skills that you need to be a leader in a complex business. All of that made him an outstanding leader."
In addition to his role at Marriott, Sorenson served on the boards of Microsoft Corp., the Brookings Institution, Business Roundtable and Special Olympics.
Sorenson is survived by his wife, Ruth, and four children, his sister, Mary, and brothers Robert and Michael.
After the coronavirus pandemic last year sent Marriott's revenue plunging, Sorenson remained optimistic.
"The fact of the matter is, people love to travel. They love to travel for themselves personally and they love to travel for work," Sorenson said in November. "It's often the most interesting and it's the place they're going to learn the most."
Marriott said it will appoint a new CEO in coming weeks. After Sorenson went on leave earlier this month, Stephanie Linnartz, group president, consumer operations, took leadership of the company's lodging division, while Tony Capuano, group president for global development, took charge of the U.S. and Canada lodging business.
"Given the leadership of the Marriott family and of Arne, the executive bench at Marriott is arguably the strongest in the industry and will have the knowledge and leadership to carry on the Marriott way," Macquarie Research analyst Chad Beynon said.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
Evan Ramstad • 612-673-4241