FACE-TO-FACE: Ed Fuller, Marriott International

Ed Fuller, President & Managing Director, Marriott Lodging International, talks to TDA about his new book, ‘You Can’t Lead with Your Feet on the Desk’.

1)                  Your new book talks about your life in leadership. Who was the biggest influence on you in your early years?

Both John Willard “Bill” Marriott Snr and, Bill Marriott Jnr had a major impact on my career. They were constantly on the road and understood the value of developing personal relationships, which has been a key aspect of my career. But it was my time in the military that really influenced my thinking. During this period I worked alongside people from all levels of society, every rank and file, often in dangerous and difficult situations. This taught me a huge lesson about the qualities of leadership and gave me the confidence to lead. This period shaped my life.

2)                  One aspect of the book you return to several times is the importance of personal contact. With the rise of technology, do you believe we are losing that ability to interact on a personal level?

There is a concern that technology is pushing people away from each other. There is a ‘cube’ mentality in offices nowadays whereby people would rather sit at their desks messaging people than making human contact. But I believe that people still want to be communicated with. Teleconferencing is good in an internal environment, but you need to make that initial face-to-face contact. It is essential to develop depth in a relationship, and many cultures demand that.

3)                  So do you believe that younger people today are losing the ability to communicate?

Possibly, in terms of the generation who are now starting their first work placements. It is a little concerning, but you can’t generalise. People across the world are at different points in their development. Certainly at Marriott, interpersonal skills and interaction are a must.

4)                  In your book you discuss some of the more difficult times of your career, such as arriving in Jakarta after the twin hotel bombings. How hard is it to remain calm in such situations?

You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t feel some pressure, but need to show composure and level-headedness, even though you might be nervous on the inside. This is an important leadership trait. I have been through several such moments in my career, from the Jakarta bombings to the recent unrest in Egypt and Libya. You never become desensitised to it, but you just need to keep calm and professional.

5)                  In your global role, do you sometimes find it difficult marrying your company’s and personal ideals with local cultures and customs?

When you’re doing business in someone else’s country you need to understand the cultural differences. While you sometimes might not agree or wish to emulate some aspects of a culture, it is important to respect them. For me, this interaction is one of the high points of my job - meeting different people and learning about other countries and cultures. At Marriott, we hold strong values and instil these into our associates. We have always tried to recruit skilled people from local markets, and at present less than 1% of our international staff are American expats.

6)                  With all your time on the road, have the extensive business relationships you have developed come at the expense of your personal ties? 

Well, I was married for 27 years and then divorced, so yes, I supposed you could say that it had an impact. I am fortunate now to have remarried to somebody from within Marriott. I made my own choices in life, and I was both lucky and unlucky to have held such a pioneering role. But I have very few regrets in life; the rewards have far outweighed the costs.

7)                  So are you planning to put your feet up yet?

No, I’m not ready for the quiet life just yet! In the long-term I would like to be able to pass on my experience, in the fielding of training and teaching.

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