September-October 2015 | Featured Article

Interview: Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson

The Chevy Chase resident talks about moving the Marriott headquarters, his background and his life here

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When you travel, what do you look for in a hotel room?

I love a great bed. Particularly with international travel, you’re going to want a really comfortable place to rest your head. Beyond that, the fitness center is really important to me—getting the opportunity to exercise when I travel.

You’ve been all around the world. Is there anything in particular that seems unique to our region?

There are a lot of things. When you come into American airspace…we’ve made so much progress on our environment in the last 25 years. There’s still more that can be done, and we have a real debate on global warming. But you see often a pristine sky. You don’t see the smog that you see in many parts of the world, particularly in Asia.

Washington is also a place that’s filled with folks who don’t have great work/life balance. Often at social events we talk about how hard we work, partly because we’ve self-selected for folks who are driven to succeed.

How many hours a week do you work?

We’re always plugged in. In some respects it’s hard to define what work is and what work isn’t. The fact of the matter is, I’m always probably, in one way or another, engaged in work. Most waking hours of the day. But it’s not work in the sense that I’ve got my head down at my desk. I love what I do. It’s not a burden in any respect.

What do you do for recreation?

We have a place on the Chesapeake Bay in Kent County, which is our refuge. Being with family, being outside, hiking,  running, canoeing, swimming.

When did you move to Somerset?

We moved to Somerset in ’88. We’ve been in the same house for 27 years. The owner had lived there for 50 years, and he was selling it without a Realtor or an asking price. We had never been to the neighborhood before, but a fellow in my firm, who lived in Somerset, sent around a memo letting people know that there was a house for sale in his neighborhood. Our oldest, Astri, was already born, Ruth was pregnant with Esther. The owner and his wife, who had passed away, had never had kids, and I think he loved the notion that a family would live there. He sold us the house. To this day, we don’t know whether we actually were the high bidder.

Tell me a little about your family and raising them in the area.

Ruth and I have been married for 31 years. All four kids went to Somerset Elementary School. The oldest three went to Westland Middle School. All of them went to Maret for high school. Lars, the youngest, went to Washington Episcopal School, and then St. Andrew’s in Potomac. All of them swam on the Town of Somerset’s swim team, all were involved in the school plays, all four played soccer.

Why have you stayed in the same neighborhood all these years?

It’s a great place to raise a family. [We had] friends and neighbors who lived in Somerset who were journalists from Minnesota. When they were moving back to Minnesota, their comment was, ‘We’re not sure we can find a community that is as warm and welcoming as Somerset.’

How do you and Ruth spend your free time at home?

We go out to eat more than we should. There’s no more pleasing experience for us than walking to downtown Bethesda for dinner—not being reliant on the car, and being able to walk through the neighborhood or take the bike path. We’ve eaten in every single place.

Freelance writer Maura Mahoney ( lives in Chevy Chase.