Sharon Lockwood has some big shoes to fill. It’s not that Rick Medwedeff had particularly large feet, but the former Marco Island Marriott general manager spent many years on the island, contributed mightily to local causes, and became entwined in the fabric of the community.
But Lockwood is no stranger to challenges, and confident she will ace this one. The career-long veteran of the Marriott hotels group has been a general manager in their system for 15 years, after starting with the company as a restaurant hostess.
Now, at the helm of the rebranded JW Marriott as it completes its evolution into the “only beachfront JW Marriott in the continental United States,” as hotel representatives do not tire of pointing out, she is leading a flagship property in the Marriott chain’s premier, luxury-tier portfolio.
Just over two weeks into her new job, Lockwood sat down with the Marco Eagle, accompanied by the hotel’s sales and marketing director Amanda Cox, to help introduce herself to her new home, give a sense of where she’s coming from and her priorities for the hotel. The number one focus, said Lockwood, is completing work on the hotel’s new Lanai Tower, housing the upgraded meeting space and “adults-only” recreational areas that were a major reason for their $250-million-plus expansion.
After a number of delays, first for enhancements added after the original plans, then for what Cox referred to as last September’s “weather event – we won’t use the H word,” the hotel has held to their revised target date of March 21 for the meeting and public spaces, and July 1 for the new guest rooms.
“We’re totally confident in that March 21 date,” said Lockwood. “We’re starting to see finishing touches” being installed, although the new wing is still a hardhat area, and she declined to walk through, so as not to disrupt the workers.
The new facilities will give the JW the chance to attract business that would not have considered Marco Island, if in fact any destination on Florida’s west coast, she said. Sixty eight percent of the groups booked for 2018 and beyond “have never been here before.”
“In the two short weeks I’ve been here, I’ve seen customers who never considered this side of Florida walking through, and asking for contracts.” With the new, expanded meeting facilities, she predicted “the busiest April and May this hotel has ever seen. That will be a great thing for the community.”
With the Marco Island Hilton remaining closed to overnight guests, the Marriott takes on even greater importance as a business engine, hosting visitors who can patronize Marco merchants, and introducing new potential residents to the island’s charms. And the “JW” moniker signifies the hotel’s elevation into the rarefied luxury tier, matched only in the area by its Ritz-Carlton corporate cousins.
Lockwood said she is very cognizant of her hotel’s strong tradition of company community involvement and corporate citizenship. Last year, the JW Marriott team in the American Cancer Society Relay for Life was the number one team, raising over $162,000, and sparked Marco Island being the number one team in Florida, placing eighth in the entire country. The company just made a $120,000-plus donation to Southwest Florida’s Harry Chapin Food Bank.
With a strong history of civic and charitable involvement at her previous stops, it makes her feel at home, said Lockwood, to know that she is inheriting a resort that embraces the local community.
“Not only do I embrace the community, I want to get to know the community, the arts, to get out into the schools.” In past years, along with the organizations mentioned, Marco Island Academy, the island’s charter high school, has been a focus of the hotel’s largesse.
Unlike Cox, who with three previous stints at the hotel and virtually living here as a youngster, “I had never been to Marco Island before I interviewed for this position,” Lockwood said, but had heard positive reports from her parents.
She has grown up in the Marriott company family, though, and had the chance to meet JW Marriott, namesake of the luxury-tier hotels and father of Bill Marriott III, executive chairman of Marriott International, early in her career. She spent much of her career in the Washington, D.C., area, near the company’s corporate headquarters.
Her most recent posting was as hotel manager at the Gaylord National Resort in Oxon Hill, Maryland, where her success paved the way for her to win the coveted Marco Island job. Both Lockwood’s husband Jon and her two grown children work for Marriott.
“The only one who doesn’t is our puppy Cooper,” she laughed, calling the mini dachshund “Mini Cooper.” She and Jon have found a home in Fiddler’s Creek, which as she pointed out is handy to the hotel’s Rookery and Hammock Bay golf properties, which also fall under her umbrella. When she has time, said Sharon, “I look forward to playing at golf again. I love to work out and stay active.” That and “giving back to the community” take up what leisure time she can find.
“My track record with the company is really about results,” she said, “working through a talented staff, and seeing the full picture. I have experience in room operations, food and beverage, and human resources, but at the end of the day, it’s about helping to develop the team.”