Arne Sorenson, President and CEO of Marriott International and LGBTQ Ally, Dies at 62

by Kevin Schattenkirk

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Saturday February 20, 2021
Originally published on February 16, 2021

Arne M. Sorenson, President and CEO of Marriott International and longtime LGBTQ ally, died on Monday after a fight against cancer.

During his tenure, Sorenson was awarded the 2020 Out & Equal Ally Changemaker Award in recognition of his work with the LGBTQ community and demonstrating a commitment to advancing equality in the workplace.

Of the award, Sorenson said, "Marriott, like Out & Equal, is committed to creating a culture of belonging for all. I am honored to accept this recognition on behalf of thousands of people around the world who wear a Marriott name badge — we are focused on welcoming all and putting people first to help create a world of inclusion for all."

Brian K. Bond, Executive Director of PFLAG National, said in a statement, "We lost a champion yesterday. For my community—the LGBTQ+ community—he was a beacon of inclusion, and personally, there was no kinder man. You could see his kindness in the culture he created globally at Marriott, whose policies embraced and protected everyone, from travel guests to Marriott associates everywhere.

"In 2015, when Arne Sorenson accepted PFLAG's Straight for Equality in the Workplace award on Marriott's behalf, he made the case that only the leader of an organization as large and influential as Marriott could about corporate America's role in achieving equality. He spoke out from our stage against Indiana's anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, calling it 'idiocy,' and 'just plain wrong.' He firmly stated that he and Marriott as a whole would not stand for it, and they did not.

"Now, years later, marriage is the law of the land, and now we are working to pass the Equality Act, to address the issues that marriage could not fix. We would be missing a significant part of the story if we didn't acknowledge the role that corporate America has played in our progress, progress that would never have happened without vocal, unflinching, and authentic leaders like Arne Sorenson.

"PFLAG's thoughts are with the Sorenson family, his Marriott International family, and all who knew and loved him."

Sorenson's commitment to diversity in the workplace extended far beyond the LGBTQ community. He announced in 2019 that Marriott would spend $500 million on goods and services from women-owned businesses. Sorenson said that the move wasn't just about creating a diverse supply chain and "empowering people through opportunity," but that women-owned businesses "are contributing to the overall economy by creating jobs, renting commercial space, innovating new product lines and serving as business and civic leaders. Their success is a win for everyone." At the time, Marriott announced its aim was to increase spending with diverse-owned businesses, on a larger level, to $1 billion by 2020.

In 2012, Sorenson became the third CEO in the corporation's history and the first outside of the Marriott family. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in May 2019 and reduced his schedule only at the beginning of February to undertake more rigorous treatment. Sorenson was regarded for his sense of humanity as much as his drive for Marriott's growth.

J.W. Marriott Jr., Executive Chairman and Chairman of the Board, said, "Arne was 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 worldwide. 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."

Kevin Schattenkirk is an ethnomusicologist and pop music aficionado.