Chris Harrison didn’t tell many colleagues that his grandfather was J.W. Marriott Jr.—Marriott International’s chairman of the board—when he was a young dishwasher on the overnight shift at a Washington D.C. Marriott. “The best blessing of my career is [that] my last name is Harrison,” quips the 35-year-old general manager of the new Marriott Irvine Spectrum. The anonymity allowed him to complete, on his own merits, what amounted to a multiyear hotelier boot camp devised for family members who thought they wanted to work for Marriott. (There are only nine family members among the 700,000 associates working under the Marriott brand.)
“The family tries to stamp out any potential entitlements you grow up with,” says Harrison, a graduate of Harvard Business School. But he thrived. “If I wasn’t a member of this family, I would have gravitated toward hospitality anyway,” he says. The husband and father of three also serves on the foundation board of the Children’s Hospital of Orange County and the board of the Orange County Business Council.
The Marriott Irvine Spectrum, now the West Coast flagship, features 271 guest rooms, a farm-fresh restaurant (Heirloom Farmhouse Kitchen), a buzzing rooftop lounge (Hive & Honey) and 13,000 square feet of indoor-outdoor event space. Also design-forward, the hotel’s elevated-farmhouse style pays homage to the Irvine Ranch, whose 93,000 acres once reached from Newport Beach to the Cleveland National Forest. “My hope is that we are the future of this brand,” says Harrison. “It’s a lofty goal, but this is the right direction—a combination of high-touch and high-tech. We are comfortable being the leader of pack.”