Roger Dow is president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Travel Association, whose 1,200 members include hotel groups, theme parks, convention bureaus and rental car companies.
Dow got his first job as a pool manager at a Marriott Hotel in Fort Dix, N.J., in 1966 while attending Seton Hall University. After he graduated with a degree in psychology, Dow started working in sales for Marriott, eventually working his way up to senior vice president of global and field sales. When he began his 39-year career at Marriott, the company had only six hotels. Now Marriott has 6,000 properties in more than 120 countries.
In college, you could get lifeguard training, so I decided to try to be a lifeguard. Then, I went back home and every pool had a lifeguard. And my mom said to me, "They are building a new hotel by a mall where I shop. Maybe they need a lifeguard."
I drove over to this small hotel that was being built. The lady said, "Oh, you want to be a lifeguard? I am not hiring lifeguards for a couple more months. The hotel is opening now and we are worried about maids and housekeepers."
When I went home, my father said to me, "You should write them a letter anyways." I sent a letter [and] said, "I know you are not hiring lifeguards for a couple of months, but I think it is a big mistake. The place is a beautiful hotel, so you should have a great lifeguard. If you don't get a great lifeguard you are going to just have what is leftover, if you wait 'til summertime."
The manager hired me, but he said, "The job is a pool manager." I said, "Pool manager!"
"Yes, you will have two lifeguards report to you. Can you do that?"
I did that for three years. It was a summer job. During the off season I'd be a bellman at the hotel. I then went to Texas. They put me in housekeeping because I knew about pools and cleaning. I [was] overseeing maids and cleaning rooms, and I saw this group in the cafeteria. They were well-dressed and having fun, and I am sitting with my friends in the housekeeping department and engineering department. I said, "Who are those folks?"
They said, "Oh, that's the sales department."
I said, "The sales department?! What do they do?"
They said, "As far as we can figure, nothing. They just walk around the hotel and give tours of the hotel and eat a lot of lunches with customers."
I said, "Oh, my god. That sounds like the best job in the world."
So I told everyone who would listen that I wanted to be a sales manager.
They patted me on the head and said, "Do a good job and in five years we will put you in sales."
Then, I went home on a Christmas vacation. When I came back, the general manager called me into his office.
"I understand you want to be in sales,” he said.
I said, "Yeah."
"Well, we've been watching you—and the sales manager quit. Normally we would go out and bring in somebody more seasoned, but I am going to promote you for this job. And it comes with a big raise."
At the time, I was making $90 a week.
"Now you are going to be making $100 a week,” he told me.
Everything pretty much goes back to that first job...
[Over time,] my career expanded, heading up sales and marketing jobs at hotels in 12 different cities. In 1983, I moved to Marriott's corporate headquarters as head of marketing and started the first frequency program, Marriott Rewards. I did that for about 10 years. Then, I became the senior vice president of global sales and I had 10,000 sales people report to me.
Everything pretty much goes back to that first job going to work for Marriott—work values, ethics, people, lifetime friends. [My wife] and I are going on a cruise next month with about 12 friends of ours, all former Marriott colleagues. My wife was a server at one of our restaurants. We've been married 36 years.
I always say to people, "Get a job somewhere. And two things are going to happen—you are going to like it and want to be in that position or you are going to hate it and know what you don't want to do."
So many people are looking for the perfect first job, and there is no perfect first job. I lucked out. I could have never extrapolated going to work for a company with six hotels as a lifeguard to a career in the travel industry with 10,000 people reporting to me. First jobs, at least for me, have a big impact. They have a big impact on what you don't want to do and that's just as good.