Bruce White, hospitality industry icon and founder/chairman of White Lodging, has died at the age of 70 after a nearly year-long battle with cancer.
He founded White Lodging in 1985 with a single hotel in Northwest Indiana, ultimately growing the business into one of the industry’s largest privately held development, ownership and management companies.
“Bruce was a visionary, a leader and a hospitality icon like no other,” said Jean-Luc Barone, CEO, White Lodging. “I have learned more from Bruce about hard work, leadership and family than any other person in my life. And while he maintained a low public profile and was humble in his impact on the industry, there’s no question that Bruce White helped transform the modern hospitality industry by having a long-term vision, challenging existing norms and executing at the highest levels—all from a small town in Northwest Indiana.”
Deno Yiankes, senior advisor/board member, White Lodging, added, “From the first time I met him when I was a line cook in the 1980s and throughout the 20-plus years I spent by his side helping White Lodging develop hundreds of hotels across the country, Bruce’s thirst and ability to be a lifelong learner and leader was unmatched.”
White Lodging’s portfolio includes approximately 60 hotels (14,600 rooms); more than 50 restaurants and 10 rooftops bars; and a collection of luxury ranches. Throughout his career, he developed, owned and managed more than 225 new hotels over the last 35 years on behalf of the company.
With hotels in some of the country’s most coveted urban destinations, the company remains family-owned and headquartered in Northwest Indiana—where Bruce White’s legacy began.
From Carlton Lodges to JW Marriotts
White had a vision when he first took over several small Carlton Lodges in Indiana nearly 40 years ago. He wanted to be the best. He wanted to take risks. He wanted to make a difference. This combination earned him trust with partners and quickly gained the attention of one of the most influential individuals in the hospitality industry, J.W. “Bill” Marriott Jr.
“Marriott’s relationship with Bruce White and White Lodging has been going strong for decades and that’s a testament to our shared values and our belief that people are at the heart of this business,” said Marriott, chairman emeritus, Marriott International. “Bruce embodied that value. It isn’t often in business that you have the opportunity to stand shoulder to shoulder with a partner for decades—it has been our distinct privilege to do just that with Bruce and the team at White Lodging.”
White’s relationship with Marriott flourished over the years beginning when he built and opened the first Fairfield Inn franchise (in Merrillville, IN) in 1990, followed by the first franchised Marriott headquarter convention hotel (Marriott Indianapolis) in 2001, the first dual-branded property (Courtyard & Residence Inn Austin Downtown) in 2006 and the largest JW Marriott in the world (JW Marriott Indianapolis) in 2011. For many years, he was Marriott’s largest independent franchisee.
“Bruce was a legend in hospitality, and it was my great fortune to get to know him very early in my career at Marriott,” said Liam Brown, group president, U.S. and Canada, Marriott International. “He freely imparted his knowledge and learning, much to my benefit over a 30-plus year career journey and friendship. I have a deep appreciation for his passion, his candor and a relentless pursuit of excellence. He built and has left a remarkable legacy. He understood that at the end of the day, we are hoteliers, providing great experiences with great hotels and the best people. Fearless, passionate and larger than life, Bruce was a hotelier through and through and very astute leader. I am fortunate to have worked with and learned from Bruce for so many years and blessed to call him a friend.”
White accelerated the company’s growth in 2006 when he sold 100 of its suburban hotels. The proceeds were reinvested in new hotel developments where at one time the company was developing and opening more than ten hotels every year. In 2018, White Lodging sold 82 hotel management contracts and began a strategic shift to a concentrated urban portfolio with more complex hotels that deliver memorable and elevated guest experiences. In 2022, he sold the company’s remaining suburban hotels and management contracts to re-focus all efforts on urban and experiential hotels.
Be a learner, be a leader, be a friend
“Be a learner, be a leader, be a friend.” These were the words Bruce White expressed to his children each day they went to school. This simple phrase beautifully captures Bruce White’s three-word philosophy on life, family, business, leadership and philanthropy: Educate, Enhance and Enjoy.
In recent years Bruce White and the White family stepped up their philanthropic support, aligned with this three-word philosophy. Over the past five years, he has invested or pledged more than $100 million in legacy investments from family foundations that are designed to transform communities.
This includes the expansion of inner-city youth education and several state-of-the-art community centers and YMCA facilities in Northwest Indiana named for Bruce’s parents, and tens of millions of dollars in support of business and hospitality education at his alma mater—Purdue University. Most recently, in recognition of Bruce White’s ongoing support, Purdue University renamed its hospitality school the White Lodging – J.W. “Bill” Marriott, Jr. School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.
“In all its history, Indiana has produced few citizens the equal of Bruce White,” said Purdue University President Emeritus and former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. “In a spectacular business career, his imagination and boldness created opportunities and wealth for thousands of others. He invested enormously of his energy and personal resources in trying to build the prosperity and quality of life of his beloved Northwest Indiana. And, of course, as trustee, donor and advocate, he was a central figure in building the Purdue University of today. We cannot replace him; we will remember him with the deepest gratitude always.”
Established family-owned succession
White Lodging’s succession plans began years ago with the development of a strong leadership team and the expertise and counsel of family members and outside advisors that sit on the board of directors. With established governance in place, White Lodging will remain a private, family-owned business committed to excellence and growth. The company has a highly experienced and established executive team in place led by Barone. In total, the company’s executive team has been involved in White Lodging’s development, investments, and operations for more than 100 years.
White recently shared the following with White Lodging associates: “Regardless of who is in my seat, our people are the heart of White Lodging and together support each other and bring this company to life—and have for nearly 40 years. Our leaders’ job is to harness the strengths and diversity of our individual associates and achieve great things together, with the continued support of the White family and board of directors.”
The White family remains intimately involved as board members and in hospitality operations. Together they are committed to continuing Bruce White’s legacy of growing the White Lodging operational excellence and new hotel developments. This includes a long-term development pipeline in addition to the projects already under way in San Antonio, Austin, and Nashville that are expected to add up to 2,300 rooms to the company’s portfolio.
David Marriott, chairman of the board, Marriott International:
“The Whites have been friends of our family for as long as I can remember. My heart goes out to Beth, Corinne, Conner and Patrick (Otis). Your husband and father was a tremendous person and a hospitality industry icon. I learned a lot from his work ethic and ingenuity. We shared an important core value to always focus on our people. Bruce made it his business to not only grow White Lodging, but to provide opportunities for thousands of employees over the years. He also focused on the next generation of hotel leaders by generously supporting hospitality education. To Bruce’s wonderful family, friends and colleagues, please know that you are in our thoughts and prayers, and we are here for you during this difficult time.”
Anthony Capuano, CEO, Marriott International:
“Bruce White was a valued long-term partner who had an indelible influence in the hospitality industry. One of our most successful franchisees, Bruce opened our first Fairfield Inn & Suites, and led White Lodging’s portfolio expansion to include over 200 hotels with us, including spectacular JW Marriott hotels that are brand builders and leaders in their markets. What comes to mind when I think about Bruce is his strong business acumen, candid perspectives, and relentless transparency. These qualities, combined with his entrepreneurial spirit, made Bruce a great partner and bolstered his success in consistently breaking new ground. I am forever grateful for Bruce’s partnership and friendship. I send my deepest sympathies to Beth, Corinne, Conner and Patrick (Otis) and all of those whose lives have been touched by Bruce.”
Bill Hanna, executive director, Dean & Barbara White Family Foundation:
“I have been very blessed in my life to work with some of the finest leaders our state and nation has to offer. In my experience there have been a handful I have had the privilege of knowing that immediately stand out as having the kind of qualities it takes to change the world. It’s even more rare to encounter someone who possesses those qualities, and has the strong values, a moral compass, and work ethic to match. Bruce white was such a person and more. His values were so strong that he could be absent from the room and yet be fully present in spirit and in action.
His work and generosity are evident throughout Northwest Indiana and the rest of the state and nation. The best part is that because of his unique strategic outlook, his work will continue to grow and effect generations to come. He was a loving husband, father, brother, and the kind of man you could look up to both personally and professionally. I have the utmost respect for Bruce and will miss him terribly.
The foundation will continue to move his vision ahead and use his values as a true north. Even though he may be absent from the room, he will be ever present in our hearts and in our progress forever.”
Josh Hale, president/CEO, Big Shoulders:
“When I met Bruce White, I knew of his business successes, but not until working with him did I understand the scale and scope of Bruce’s philanthropic and civic involvement—which go well beyond writing a check. He believed in breaking down silos, and that strong community-based organizations with a connected citizenry will ultimately be a multiplier for good and a key to strengthening communities. Bruce’s legacy is very much in the tradition of the philosopher who said blessed are those who plant trees under whose shade they will never sit. His loss is great, but we all know his legacy will impact generations. But, at this very moment, I just really miss my friend, Bruce.”