Marriott's Arne Sorenson dies at 62

Arne Sorenson joined Marriott in 1996. Photo credit: Marriott International (Arne Sorenson)

Arne M. Sorenson, president and CEO of Marriott International, died unexpectedly on Feb. 15. He was 62 years old.

In May 2019, the company announced that Sorenson had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. On Feb. 2, Sorenson said he would temporarily reduce his schedule to focus on more demanding treatment for pancreatic cancer.

Related: Marriott's Arne Sorenson steps back to focus on health

Sorenson joined Marriott in 1996 as VP and associate general counsel and quickly moved up the ranks, spending five years as EVP and CFO and then six years as EVP, CFO and president, continental European lodging. He was elected to Marriott’s board of directors in 2011 and became the third CEO in Marriott’s history a year later. He was the company’s first CEO without the Marriott surname. In 2017, he was awarded the International Hotel Investment Forum (IHIF) Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his career and accomplishments.

In a statement announcing his death, the company said Sorenson “put the company on a strong growth trajectory.” He led the $13 billion acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide in 2016, making Marriott the largest hotel company in the world with 5,500 hotels and 1.1 million rooms at the time. The company now has more than 7,500 properties across 132 countries and territories and 30 brands. The merger also created the Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program, which has more than 140 million members.

Sorenson also steered Marriott to make significant progress on diversity, equity and inclusion, environmental sustainability and human trafficking awareness, keeping a blog on LinkedIn on which he shared his insights as a leader. The final entry on the blog, announcing his plan to step back and focus on his health, ended with words of encouragement: “Stay focused, stay strong and let’s do great work together.”

Related: Arne Sorenson on why Marriott's success is never final

“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.”

When Sorenson stepped back from full-time management in early February, the company tapped two veteran Marriott executives, Stephanie Linnartz, group president, consumer operations, technology and emerging businesses, and Tony Capuano, group president, global development, design and operations services, 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.

Sorenson graduated from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, in 1980 and the University of Minnesota Law School three years later. Before he joined Marriott, he was a partner with the law firm Latham & Watkins in Washington, D.C. He and his wife Ruth lived in the Washington, D.C., area, where they raised their four children.