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Arne Sorenson Defined the New American CEO: George Floyd Essay



When Arne Sorenson died of pancreatic cancer, I thought back to many moments we worked together at Marriott International. He was a new CEO and I ran Digital Corporate Relations that included video storytelling. Our paths crossed often at HQ when I arranged a few media appearances and produced the video annual report. And they intersected at remote regions of the world – Dubai and the Amazon.


Arne looked at the world through the lens of a person raised by a Lutheran minister. He understood people and had a profound sense of right and wrong. He felt we were all guests on this planet when it came to the environment. In one of his more stirring LinkedIn articles, he took the pulse of a nation after the George Floyd killing and showed what leadership is all about. It's not playing it safe. It's not being wishy-washy. I'm posting the article below. As you read it, think about how Arne defined the modern CEO, taking on the big social issues of the day. It took guts, incredible intellect and a moral compass that did not stray.

We have all been watching the events unfold in Minneapolis and around the U.S. as a result of the tragic death of George Floyd. Listening to family, friends and colleagues, it strikes me that the range of emotions we feel reflects the range of perspectives we have about race in America. For many, the killing of Mr. Floyd is just the latest example of a racist and senseless disregard of the rights and dignity of people of color in America, particularly African American men, that dates back far too long. That perspective, understandably, has led to anger.


There are many watching this latest episode of tragedy who are gripped by another emotion -- fear. They include many people of color in America who fear that they could be next, seen not as individuals who deserve respect and dignity, but as something "other." An "other" that fails to command the most basic recognition that each of us, without exception, deserve. Fear also animates many who watch the protests that have turned too often to violence, who may want their neighborhood to return to calm or who fear the chaos from a distance.


While the violence can only lead to further rage and destruction, we have to pay attention to the underlying emotions. Until we do, the anger and fear that most animate the unpredictable part of this crisis, cannot be assuaged.


As I watch this crisis unfold, there is another emotion that envelops me -- sadness. That sadness begins with a recognition that we have lost another valuable life, needlessly. George Floyd should be living and breathing and bringing smiles to the faces of neighbors and friends today, just as he was a week ago.


The sadness continues with a profound sense that we see these events reoccur far too often and we never seem to convert them into the kind of change that we need. In fact, these events often seem to divide us further. They cause some to defend reflexively the police as an important symbol of order without ever looking at the officer whose individual actions were abhorrent. Others take a victim, in this case George Floyd, and twist his life story to fit their purpose, resulting in a loss of life and of identity. My sadness is mostly driven by far too many signs that hatred, incomprehensible hatred, still lives among us.


In the midst of these swirling emotions, what steps can we take to cause change? The images we have seen in the news since George Floyd’s death can be paralyzing: the problems seem so impenetrable that many are left feeling helpless. Don’t underestimate what you can do.


For many years, I have tried to use my perch at Marriott to advocate for opportunity for all. Regardless of race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, abilities, wealth and educational background or any other point of human difference, each person deserves to be recognized for who we are and respected for both our common humanity and the distinct qualities that make us unique. Each deserves an opportunity to get joy and gratification from their work and to feel a sense of purpose and pride about the footsteps they leave behind in the world.


George Floyd won’t get that opportunity. But we can honor his memory by leading our own lives in a way that pierces through prejudice to embrace and know people as individuals. The people who work with or for us, the people who serve us, the people we see in our communities, all of them deserve recognition and respect. Too often, we don’t even see each other. Let’s never forget to use our own lives to bring recognition and community and opportunity to life.