MARRIOTT'S NEW GENERAL COUNSEL
A shoutout to our newest sponsor, Abdo Development, one of the region's top developers, whose offer to the right has been made specially for this publication.
These guys at Marriott are brilliant, but they have no imagination when it comes to choosing names for their general counsels. The last one of 13 years was Joe Ryan; the new one is Ed Ryan. No relation, of course, but was everyone just too used to saying, "Good morning, Mr. Ryan"? Did they want to save money on nameplates?
Eh, we'll write it off to being a common name, and the fact is, Bethesda-based Marriott International had a wide open, 9-month, excruciating search for the right person.
Ed Ryan looks a lot like Johnny Carson, the late-night comic of old, down to the infectious smile. Seven years at Penn, 13 at Hogan, now 11 (as of last Sunday) at Marriott. Ed had most recently been Marriott's Associate GC for corporate transactions. Six months ago he got a new time slot: EVP and GC, in charge of a 90-attorney, 190 person department, with attorneys not only here and Orlando, but in London, Zurich, Dubai, Mumbai, Singapore, Hong Kong, and (very shortly) Beijing.
You might assume he'd been groomed for some kind of lock-step succession, the way Marriott meticulously orchestrates its 2,800 hotels, 500,000 hotel rooms, 140,000 employees, and $12 billion a year in revenues. But he was kept guessing like everyone else. "I just kept my head down," he told us in his office last week. Except for the fact he eventually became one of five finalists, "I had no idea what the status was." The senior management team did lots of interviews—"really hard questions," he says. "I had to hope for the best, and it was never far from my mind."
He got the news one day when his admin, Monica Wilson, with whom he stands above, pulled him out of a meeting and directed him to Chairman Bill Marriott's office. Inside was his predecessor, but Bill Marriott himself was waiting at the door to congratulate him.
Ed's first priorities? He wanted to “be sure the department was in great shape,” and to that end "changed the lineup a little," like having lead lawyers in Europe and Asia, whom he'd come to know in his transaction work, report to him directly. "Keeps me better informed," he says, even though it means 10 attorney direct reports now (a deputy GC, five associate GC's, and four assistant GC’s), a daunting number. And there are at least three openings he's trying to fill: an operations attorney, a franchise attorney, and a corporate secretary. He says some vacancies occur because lawyers are free to transition to the business side; it’s not unusual to have a transactional lawyer became a global asset manager or developer.
And he wanted to know how senior management would like him best to communicate. He asked Mr. Marriott directly, who stressed he's available whenever necessary. To accommodate the boss’ legendary travel schedule, Ed prefers to give him a constant stream of written memos and emails, but they talk directly at least twice a week.
Main outside counsel are known as "partnering firms," to which Marriott directs about 80% of its legal business, which totals around $19 million a year. Primary transaction firms include Arent Fox, DLA Piper, Venable, O’Melveny, and Holland & Knight; Williams & Connolly for litigation; and Gibson Dunn for M&A and securities.
Above Ed shows us various momentos and pictures of his kids, aged 16 and 14, who he coached 10 years on Saturday morning soccer fields. His main recreation now? Rowing on the Potomac one to two hours, four days a week, March through November; plus, Thursday pick up soccer games at noon on a field outside the office.
Ed grew up in Pittsburgh, and chose DC "out of the blue" in 1978. He started law life as a litigator but transitioned into commercial and corporate work that would be great experience for Marriott’s business model. At Marriott, he loved structuring the company's expansion into Ritz-Carlton Residences in the late 90s.
When he travels, does he look for dust? No, "I just check on the FF&E," he says, referring to "furniture, fixtures, and equipment." And he does travel—at least once a year to all legal offices.
Biggest surprise as GC? “I get a lot more grief about the car I drive,” a Mini-Cooper.