Not too long ago, I had the occasion to participate in a high-profile ceremony that will lead to the opening of two new deluxe Marriott International hotels in
Erbil, Iraq by 2014. They will be the company’s first hotels in the country and hold the promise of being the first of many more to come.
The event was part of a larger celebration marking the opening of the first-ever U.S. Consulate in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region and was meant to be symbolic of the normalization of U.S.-Iraqi relations and recognition of the dynamic growth of the Kurdish economy and the enormous building boom now underway in Erbil.
Surrounded by a lot of U.S. military and diplomatic brass, the President of Kurdistan and other officials, I couldn’t help but remember back three years earlier when, at the invitation of General David Petraeus, then commander of the multi-national force in Iraq, I led a group of colleagues on a hasty trip to Baghdad to inspect a potential site for a new hotel. The hotel, the General said, would provide work for Iraqis and demonstrate the United States’ goodwill. At the same time, it would show the world that Iraq was back in business and ready to host foreign enterprise. Last but not least, he predicted, it would be a profitable venture for Marriott International.
I accompanied the team because I believe leaders make a tacit contract with the people they lead. A leader has to be on the front line when necessary, always taking responsibility for any flak the troops get for doing the job you’ve set for them. That way, when you hand out an assignment, your people can be confident that you have clear and personal knowledge of what you’re asking them to do. Ultimately, however, after examining the situation firsthand that spring in Baghdad, we agreed that we could not, in good conscience, recommend building a hotel there at that particular period in time. Had I not toured Baghdad with my team, I might have made a decision I would have lived to regret.
As it turned out, over the subsequent three years, we evaluated other projects in Iraq with the end result being the two hotels we recently announced in Erbil. This time, the timing was right.