“For lots of people,
change is hard or it’s
you don’t know
exactly what to
expect, but I’m a big
believer in change.”
Now an 18-year veteran of Marriott International, Leeny Oberg assumed her role as
CFO in 2016, just two months after Marriott
announced the largest merger in hotel industry history. Her approach to her career
is to continually learn and grow and to take
things one year at a time, a mind-set that
guided the organization through last year’s
surprise bidding war for Starwood and now
the integration of the two massive companies. She spoke with BTN lodging editor
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST PRIORITY AS CFO?
With the merger there was an extraordinary
amount of work in front of us to get the deal
financed, approved, closed and then begin
integration. But the first and most important
thing was to get together with my team and
to start to build the way we would be working
together. One of my favorite country songs—
I love country music—is a song called “Roll
With It,” and that was a very apropos motto
for the situation. Things were changing every
day; [my team] had a new boss, we had this
massive merger. It was a great way of saying,
“You know what? Things are going to be unusual and unexpected, and we’re going to all
just roll with it.”
NOW THAT THE STARWOOD TRANSACTION
HAS CLOSED, WHAT ITEMS ARE ON YOUR
One of the biggest ones is integrating the two
legacy companies. We want to make sure that
we’re combining them and making them as efficient as possible, taking best practices from
both places and putting them into action.
We’re working on our loyalty program and trying to make that the best possible for all of our
customers, and there’s work with our partners
there, the credit card partners, etc. There’s also
growing the business. I work a lot with the development group to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to grow our brands.
YOUR RESUME INCLUDES GOLDMAN SACHS
AND CHASE MANHATTAN, AS WELL AS AN MBA
FROM STANFORD UNIVERSITY. WHAT BROUGHT
YOU TO MARRIOTT?
In 1997, I was working at Sallie Mae and Marriott was looking for somebody to do a spin-off
of their management business, Sodexo Marriott, and so they hired me to help them do that
spin-off. I was with Sodexo Marriott for a few
years, and I came back in 1999 to join Marriott’s investor relations team.
AND YOU’VE STAYED EVER SINCE. IS IT
HOSPITALITY THAT GOT YOU, OR MARRIOTT AS
Marriott for me has been a unique combination of terrific finance work, as well as a culture that particularly fits with my values. It’s
a business that is always changing, always innovating, and it’s very much a people-driven
business. Once I got here, I knew that this
was where I wanted to be. One of the things I
value so much, too, is the company’s approach
to diversity: diversity of opinions, diversity of
leaders. It makes it a richer workplace and a
WHO HAS BEEN YOUR MOST IMPORTANT MENTOR?
My first and foremost mentor was my mom.
Although she didn’t have your classic business
work experience, she approached her life as
an incredibly optimistic, people-centered, energetic, can-do person. It really had a big impact on me as I thought about how I wanted to
approach my work, my family, my life. It has
been amazing to me how consistently I’ve felt
that impact, no matter what age I am.
IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND GIVE SOME ADVICE TO 20-YEAR-OLD LEENY, WHAT WOULD
YOU TELL HER?
Don’t worry about 20 years from now; worry
about finding what it is that you really like to
do. You’re going to do it better because you
enjoy it. I would be remiss not to tell her to
work hard. And I would also tell her change is
a good thing. For lots of people, change is hard
or it’s worrisome because you don’t know exactly what to expect, but I’m a big believer in
change. It helps you grow; it helps you stretch
and learn new things and new skills.
MARRIOTT INTERNATIONAL CFO
KNOW Get the insider’s view on women making headlines in the managed travel in- dustry. In the spotlight this year are senior-level travel buyers and major air- line, hotel and technology company executives, all at the top of their games. BTN editors spoke with each of them about their career achievements to date and what about their work continues to challenge and inspire them.
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