Alumni Interview: Stephanie Linnartz '90, President of Marriott International, Member of the Board of Trustees of Holy Cross

By Zachary Elias | October 27, 2022

Tell me about where you’re from and your pre-Holy Cross experience?

I grew up in McLean, Virginia which is a suburb of Washington, D.C. I am the oldest of six children. My family is in the hotel restaurant business. They own a small, boutique hotel on Capitol Hill and they’ve had a variety of different restaurants over the years. The most famous is probably The Dubliner, an Irish restaurant and pub, which is located in the Phoenix Park Hotel, across the street from Union Station and only two blocks from the U.S. Capitol. It has been there for decades and is kind of a D.C. institution. I grew up working in the business with my brothers and sisters…cleaning rooms, checking people in, waiting tables, you name it I’ve done it. At a young age, I developed a love for the hospitality industry.

I also grew up going to Catholic school. I went to Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School which is on the campus of Georgetown University and is one of the oldest all-girls Catholic schools in the country. I was born and raised Catholic, went to Catholic schools, and that’s why I was quite interested in going to Holy Cross specifically for the Jesuit, Catholic education.

What made you decide to attend Holy Cross?

It was the influence that my parents had in terms of talking about why Holy Cross and the Jesuit, Catholic education. My dad said “Holy Cross won’t prepare you for your first job in life, but it will prepare you for your last job.” I didn’t realize at the time, but I do now. What he meant was, my last job, where I’m a leader and I have bigger responsibilities weighing on me, strategically and morally, and so I think he couldn’t have been more right about that.

What did you enjoy most about your time here at Holy Cross? Any favorite classes, stories, or professors? What did you major in?

I majored in political science and those were some of my favorite classes but I also enjoyed philosophy, religion, and history classes. Additionally, the core of the Jesuit education, as this educates the whole person: mind, body, spirit, and I feel that is what I really got and enjoyed at Holy Cross. When I was a student many, many years ago sports were quite good, and I know they’re doing very well this year which is great to see. I also enjoyed the extracurriculars too. I made lifelong friends at Holy Cross, friends that I still see today on a regular basis. Additionally, I joined the Board of Trustees which has been an honor and great to reconnect with some classmates who are on the board with me. My favorite parts of Holy Cross were certainly the core liberal arts education, but equally important were the social, community aspect. Holy Cross is a small school and has an intimacy to it and an ability to get to know, not only people in your own class, but other classes which really makes it quite special.

You celebrated 25 years with Marriott International this year and over that time you’ve had incredible success rising to the rank of president. Can you tell me about how your career started and how it's grown over your time at the company?

After I graduated from Holy Cross, I decided that I wanted to branch out from my family business, so I went to work for Hilton for a couple of years. To continue to further my career, I decided to go to business school, and after graduation I joined Marriott International. The company started as a root beer stand in Washington, D.C., and the Marriott family was in the restaurant business for many years until 1957 when they opened the first hotel in Northern Virginia. There’s really a hometown connection for me with this company, even though we’re the largest hotel company in the world with 30 brands and hotels in 139 countries, it is the hometown roots which attracted me to work for the company. And so, I joined the company in Marriott’s real estate finance department. Over the years I’ve worked in almost every department—sales, marketing, technology, operations, development—you name it, I’ve pretty much done it at Marriott over the last 25 years. Then a year and a half ago, I came into this role as President of the company when sadly our CEO and President Arne Sorenson tragically passed away from pancreatic cancer right in the middle of COVID. It was very, very difficult to lose Arne. I miss him every day.

Over the course of your 25 years at Marriott how has the company grown into the world's largest hospitality company?

It’s grown year by year, step by step. One way has been through organic growth, meaning current brands and growing those. And another is through acquisitions like when the company bought Ritz-Carlton in 1997. But one of the most transformational things in terms of growing the company happened in 2016 when Marriott International bought Starwood Hotels and Resorts. That's the biggest hotel merger deal and acquisition that’s ever taken place in the history of hospitality. That leapfrogged the company. The company had 19 brands when we bought Starwood in 2016 and gained another 11 brands including St. Regis, Westin, Sheraton, W Hotels, to name just a few. And now in 2022, Marriott International has 30 brands and more than 8,100 hotels in 139 countries and territories.

With your starting at Marriott in the 90’s did you face any obstacles in a male dominated industry? If so, how were you able to overcome these challenges?

Well certainly. Quite candidly, every industry is still male dominated if you look at the top of the house in terms of CEOs and C-suites. There’s been a lot of progress since I started my career, and there’s been a lot of progress at my company, but we are not at gender parity or equity at this company, just like most company’s around the world. Of course, there have been improvements since the 90s, where there were very few women at Marriott or anywhere else. I’m happy to see the progress we’ve made. Whether you’re a woman, a minority, or any kind of underrepresented group, you have to navigate the situation or the company you’re in. In my case, there were a couple of things that helped me move along in my career at Marriott, and ultimately end up at the job I’m in today. Number one and most importantly is to realize that nothing I will ever do or ever have done is accomplished on my own. It’s all about the team. I genuinely mean that. From the first time I had the opportunity to manage other people through now, I have always had a strong focus on having a diverse team. And by diversity, I mean gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, nationality, and diversity of thought but also bringing in people who may not have worked in the hotel industry. Another thing that has helped me move along is being confident and humble at the same time. You must have a very strong sense of your own self-worth but also be humble and realize no one human being has it all or knows it all. This goes for any leader male or female, staying true to that principle very early in my career has helped me stand out and push ahead even when times are hard. Additionally, I took a lot of risks. I took on the projects that no one else wanted to take on. That really helps you stand out, particularly if you’re a woman or a minority. You start saying, “what's the worst-case scenario?”. You’re going to get recognized for having the guts to try, hopefully you succeed but even on the occasions where you don’t, and that happens, you’re still recognized for trying. The key is building a great team, being a great team member as you move up the ladder and taking smart risks. That’s kind of how I navigated my career.

How did you leverage your Holy Cross education in your career?

Turns out my dad was right. Holy Cross prepared me for my later jobs, as compared to when I was just starting out as an analyst. Not that Holy Cross didn’t prepare me for that, but you lean into it more as you grow and mature, whether you move your way up the medical field, corporate America or academia, or whatever you decide to do. I think it is that grounding in the core principles of a Jesuit, Catholic education that stay with you forever. Sometimes you realize you’re leaning into and using it and other times you don’t even realize you were until you step back and think about it. It is important to find a company that’s aligned to your values, which I did 25 years ago. Marriott’s core culture is about putting people first and giving back to the community. In this job now, I have a lot of influence and the ability to make things happen. I’m spending a lot of time focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion. How can we get more gender equity at the leadership level? How can we be good corporate citizens? Marriott International is very committed to our environmental goals. We signed up to be net-zero for carbon emissions by 2050 or sooner. We’re reducing our carbon footprint, reducing food waste, building more energy efficient hotels, etc. I lean into this idea of being a good citizen and giving back to the community, and that’s very tied to our Jesuit education. Those values, those principles, that are such a big part of how we’re educated at Holy Cross now play out in my job as President of Marriott.

Tell me more about your experience on the Board of Trustees of the College. With such a busy career, why have you decided to serve on the Board?

I think it’s incumbent on all of us, as we grow in our careers and our lives, that we give back. I really wanted to do it because I believe in the Jesuit, Catholic education. I want the school to thrive, and I want to be a part of helping that happen. I couldn’t be more excited about President Rougeau and the energy, enthusiasm, and ideas he brings to the college. I think it’s going to be transformational for the school. The school is strong on so many levels, but I think Vince and his team are going to continue to take Holy Cross to the next level for decades to come. I wanted to, in whatever small way I can be, be a part of that. Holy Cross has meant a lot to my life, and so I want to make sure that it’s around for a long time to be a part of other generations to come.

Finally, in ten years Holy Cross will celebrate the 60th anniversary of coeducation. What do you think the future holds for the college over the next ten years?

I think the future for Holy Cross is incredibly bright. The world has never needed the principles of a Jesuit education like it does today. Sadly, the world has a lot of problems. It’s quite divisive. Almost like never before, the world needs Holy Cross and of course its graduates. I think there is something special about Holy Cross and the world needs people with that training, that background, that kind of ethos that will make them great leaders. Not just in corporate America but in whatever path they take. I’m super optimistic about the future of Holy Cross. Again, I go back to Vince. Think about it, it’s been only 50 years that women could even go to Holy Cross, and I think about whether it’s Marriott 25 years ago when I started or back when I went to Holy Cross, the fact that we have a black president and we have the first female Board of Trustees president, Dr. Helen Boucher, both infinitely qualified for their respective roles but also diverse. That gives me great hope. When I went to Holy Cross in the 90s, I didn’t see that back then. To me, the future and outlook for Holy Cross is super bright and exciting. I can’t say enough positive things about where I think the school is headed.