General Manager, Courtyard by Marriott Convention Center, Washington, D.C., Age: 34
At 18, Thomas Penny was going nowhere fast in his Seat Pleasant, MD., neighborhood. “School wasn’t a priority and I was robbing people in Georgetown,” he says. The sudden death in 1992 of his older brother, Derrick, forced him to take stock of his life. “My brother’s passing connected me to the fierce urgency of now,” he says, quoting the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Penny looked at life beyond his dishwasher job at a local hotel, earned a bachelor’s degree in business management from the University of Maryland in 1997 and embarked on a career in the hospitality industry, which is second only to the federal government in the number of people it employs in the Washington area. He is now the general manager of the Courtyard by Marriott Convention Center in Washington, D.C., one of the Marriott chain’s biggest-grossing properties. “I never sought out this career track,” says Penny. “It’s an industry of hope, and the only industry you can find general managers who started out as dishwashers.”
A voracious reader of books on Black self-empowerment, Penny is writing his own book titled Hope, Help, and Hospitality, which he hopes will encourage others to consider working in the industry or owning their own hotel or hotel chain, as he hopes to do one day.
“We need to do all we can to make everything better today. I wake up every day with the goal of making my brother proud,” he says.
Quote: “The tragedy of life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach. Not failure, but low aim is sin.” – Dr. Benjamin Mays
Favorite book/author: Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America by Lerone Bennett Jr.
Xbox or PlayStation: PlayStation
Facebook or LinkedIn: LinkedIn
Favorite sports team: Washington Wizards
What artist would you go on tour with: India. Arie
First job: Roy Rogers
Favorite charity: So Others Might Eat and Marriott’s Bridges Foundation
Other languages spoken: Arabic, Amharic, Swahili, Mandarin, Spanish