REPLY ALL: A conversation with Bancroft Gordon

REPLY ALL | Bancroft Gordon
Vice President, Asst. General Counsel, Marriott International, Inc. 
Maryland Chamber of Commerce Executive Committee Member

Tell us about yourself and your journey to your current position? 

I was born in Jamaica and was always a student athlete. I excelled at soccer and played for the Jamaican national soccer team—that got me a scholarship to Howard University. I came here, became an all-American and then the pro-league folded just as I left college. I found myself in search of another route.

So, I went to Harvard Law and eventually ended up back in DC for work. I worked at a firm for five years [Shaw Pittman Potts and Trowbridge], then Freddie Mac as the assistant corporate secretary. After 16 years there, I came to Marriott. It was a great fit for me and it has turned out to be the perfect marriage. I love the company, I adhere to its core values, its goals and its business practices.

What characteristics have helped you get to where you are today?

I think the best way to capture my motivation is comparing it to two ads that I got attracted to when I came to America. One being the U.S. Army’s, “Be all that you can be” campaign. I try to be the best I can be in whichever pursuit I explore. The other is Nike’s, “Just do it.” I think people procrastinate a lot of the time and do a lot of planning and don’t take enough action and so, I don’t hesitate.

If there’s something I want to do, I give it a quick thought and if it’s something that fits into my portfolio of life, then I go for it. I think that’s what has held me in good stead over the years.

This month at the Maryland Chamber, we are focusing on the impact of tourism in the state. From your experience working in the industry, what do you think makes tourism in Maryland unique? Why is it important?

For us, the more people who travel, the more we put in our hotel rooms. We’ve been in Maryland for more than 90 years. Maryland has a very unique position on the east coast, we have easy access all the way from Toronto to Miami, we have great natural resources, great recreational parks, but I think the most important thing we’ve got going for us is the infrastructure—more specifically the travel infrastructure. We have easy access to Boston and New York to the north. We have easy access to Atlanta and Miami, to the south; all by rail, roads, by air and we have a great international airport. I think those factors are the primary benefits for tourism in Maryland. I think it’s a perfect location and great central meeting place for people.

On the other hand, what are some of the biggest challenges you face in the tourism industry?

All of the explosive growth, especially in the suburbs. How do we keep pace? The infrastructure is great for the major cities, so if your commute is up that I-95 corridor, you’re fine, but now most of the growth is taking place in the suburbs and how do we expand that travel infrastructure to service those smaller towns, cities, off the main thoroughfare?

The government has to really start thinking deeply about structure and how it will impact the future. I think some careful planning needs to go into developing travel infrastructure to match the explosive growth happening in Maryland—it’s going to be challenging. 

Marriott partners with many Maryland businesses such as food services, construction, staffing, etc., how do you discover the businesses that you partner with? How are they valuable to the success of the company?

We typically do business with partners that align with our core values and have high ethical standards.  Fortunately, because we are a large player in the hospitality space, we attract many providers for each service and product so we have the ability to choose from many options.  We have found that the providers, knowing how important those values and standards are to us, tend to shape their own business practices to match ours. It results in our practices permeating into a larger population.

Marriott is well known for its CSR and its inclusive hiring practices. Could you reflect on the importance of these two factors to your organization? What do they mean to you personally?

Marriott has a long history of strong social responsibility and diversity and inclusion.  In fact, we were one of the first companies nationwide to establish a board-level committee comprised of three Marriott directors and members of executive management which sets and monitors achievement against measurable annual goals in those areas. This includes hiring, retention and vendor relations.  In 2017, we enhanced our approach with the launch of our new sustainability and social impact initiative, Serve 360: Doing Good in Every Direction. We believe we have an opportunity and responsibility to be a force for good in the communities where we do business. It is important to the business because our key stakeholders, like associates, investors and customers, are paying attention and making decisions based on how we do on these important societal issues.

Marriott is also involved with workforce development. Could you elaborate on why fostering the talent pipeline is particularly important to Marriott? What type of legislation could help support this initiative?

One of Serve 360’s priorities is to “empower through opportunity.” For us, that means helping people from disadvantaged backgrounds find their way into hospitality careers with Marriott. Partnering with non-profits and developing hospitality training has helped us source talent and provide opportunity for underserved communities. A win-win.

Our Bridges from School to Work program, established in 1989 by the Marriott Foundation for youth with disabilities, is a prime example of this commitment. The program prepares youth with disabilities for employment and actually provides them with job opportunities.

Affordable housing, educational systems and mobility are the key pieces to attracting talent to the region and any policy that supports those macro-factors, ends up supporting workforce development.

On a personal note, what motivates you?

My ego. I try to be the best at everything I put my hand to. I don’t like to dabble. When I first was approached about  joining the Maryland Chamber, I had a good, long talk with my friend Tom Graham, who recruited me. I said, “Tommy, I’m not a government type guy, how much can I help in this process? I don’t want to be coming in as just a figurehead or a place holder.” He convinced me that there was a place here for a governance expert and that’s my field. I’m a governance guy. I bring that to the table and so my ego doesn’t allow for me to do a bad job. That drives me to be the best that I can be.

The other thing, which is actually more important, is that I like to see my community and everyone around my community doing well. I hate being in a place where I’m doing fine or friends of mine are doing fine and then the general population around us is miserable. Everywhere I go, I try to get involved in the community in some way.

I run a soccer team with mostly disadvantaged kids and it has proven to be a real success story. I’ve gotten a few of them to college scholarships and even the pros. The even bigger achievement for me has been seeing them become good, well-rounded gentlemen with families, treating their wives and girlfriends with dignity and pride. That for me is the bigger win. Those two things are the major motivation behind my being as a person.

How do you strike a balance between your successful career and personal life?

I have always viewed work as a facilitator for a good life, instead of thinking of work as my life. I love the career I have, but it doesn’t define me as a person. I am better known outside of my work by the people I care about.

My kids don’t care about what I do for a living, they care about how I treat them and what kind of experiences I share with them. We just went on a family reunion trip to Jamaica, those are things they’re going to remember. They’re not going to remember what position I held at Marriott.

Sometimes we’re lucky enough to have our life and our job merge. I think it’s hard to convince anyone that law is a part of life, but it is. My job is not my major motivator, but making sure my family is fine and my community is fine is.

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