BILL MARRIOTT: Success is Never Final — His Life and the Decisions that Built a Hotel Empire,” by Dale Van Atta, Shadow Mountain, $29.99, 506 pages (nf)

Bill Marriott’s call to serve as a bishop in his Latter-day Saint Chevy Chase Ward came at a most inconvenient time. 

In the summer of 1975, a daughter graduated from high school and left for college. A son was dealing with multiple health issues. His father, J. Williard Marriott, suffered a massive heart attack. Marriott himself was consumed as the CEO of a $732-million company in the middle of a recession. 

Dale Van Atta is the author of “Bill Marriott: Success is Never Final.” | Provided by Shadow Mountain

The day before his name was presented to the congregation, Marriott’s father even called President Spencer W. Kimball, a personal friend, and requested his son’s new call be withdrawn. It would not be reversed, the prophet told his friend.

But the opportunity to be the shepherd over his flock in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proved to be a great blessing for Bill Marriott and helped him appreciate the need to rely on the Lord, author Dale Van Atta wrote in the businessman’s biography, “Bill Marriott: Success is Never Final.” 

“Bill’s ready acceptance of the call to service might have been the greatest act of faith he had ever shown. He felt ill prepared and thought the timing couldn’t be worse,” Atta wrote. 

“Two decades after his release as bishop, Bill reflected that the service ‘really brought me a much better understanding of our associates in our company — what kind of problems they have in making ends meet, in trying to raise families, trying to get their kids to do right, trying to provide health care and pay the light bill, the heat bill, the rent. When you’re the CEO of a company, it’s hard to really understand what’s going on in the people’s lives that are working down in the trenches. The church job gave me more empathy. I became a better listener because of it. Those two years became an anchor in troubled times. No question about it.’” 

As bishop, Marriott presided over Sunday worship services, performed marriages, conducted funerals, attended ward socials, counseled with members one-on-one and endured campouts, an activity the bishop disliked. But he still showed up with a bed in the back of his station wagon and wore a sleeping mask that made him look like the Lone Ranger, Atta wrote.

“That’s how he survived the campouts,” David Fell, the ward executive secretary recalled in the book. “But he came, and that spoke volumes.”

The account of Marriott’s service as a Latter-day Saint bishop is one of many never-before-published stories about his life found in the pages of his biography, published by Shadow Mountain in September. Van Atta is a New York Times bestselling author and award-winning journalist. 

“Success is Never Final” provides readers with an insider view of Marriott’s life, from the struggles and disappointments to success and prosperity.

Readers will find the details of Marriott’s first job in his family’s root beer stand, along with the life-defining decisions that led him to build the Marriott Corporation, the largest global hotel chain in the world.

Another part describes the hardship Marriott endured as a young husband and father when a boat explosion caused a fire that severely burned his body and damaged his hands. The accident came one week after his father’s death. 

J. W. “Bill” Marriott, with wife, Donna, responds after the two were presented the Pioneer in Leadership Award from BYU Management Society, Utah Valley Chapter in 2015. | Scott Lloyd, Church News

As an international business leader and philanthropist, there are also many anecdotes that describe meetings and interactions with American presidents, foreign dignitaries and other influential and prominent individuals. A separate list of recognizable names endorsed the book, including former first lady Laura Bush.

“Bill Marriott is one of the most caring and bighearted people I know,” she wrote. “I am a witness to his generosity, and I am thrilled that this fascinating biography will share the stories of his purposeful life with readers all over the world.”