Marriott Corporation: The Cost of Capital

In April 1988, Dan Cohrs, vice president of project finance at the Marriott Corporation, was preparing his annual recommendations for the hurdle rates at each of the firm’s three divisions. Investment projects at Marriott were selected by discounting the appropriate cash flows by the appropriate hurdle rate for each division. In 1987, Marriott’s sales grew by 24% and its return on equity stood at 22%. Sales and earnings per share had doubled over the previous four years, and the operating strategy was aimed at continuing this trend.
Marriott’s 1987 annual report stated: We intend to remain a premier growth company. This means aggressively developing appropriate opportunities within our chosen lines of business—lodging, contract services, and related businesses. In each of these areas our goal is to be the preferred employer, the preferred provider, and the most profitable company. Mr. Cohrs recognized that the divisional hurdle rates at Marriott would have a significant effect on the firm’s financial and operating strategies.
As a rule of thumb, increasing the hurdle rate by 1% (for example, from 12% to 12. 12%), decreases the present value of project inflows by 1%. Because costs remained roughly fixed, these changes in the value of inflows translated into changes in the net present value of projects . Figure A shows the substantial effect of hurdle rates on the anticipated net present value of projects. If hurdle rates were to increase, Marriott’s growth would be reduced as once profitable projects no longer met the hurdle rates.

Alternatively, if hurdle rates decreased, Marriott’s growth would accelerate. Marriott also considered using the hurdle rates to determine incentive compensation. Annual incentive compensation constituted a significant portion of total compensation, ranging from 30% to 50% of base pay. Criteria for bonus awards depended on specific job responsibilities but often included the earnings level, the ability of managers to meet budgets, and overall corporate performance.
There was some interest, however, in basing the incentive compensation, in part, on a comparison of the divisional return on net assets and the market-based divisional hurdle rate. The compensation plan would then reflect hurdle rates, making managers more sensitive to Marriott’s financial strategy and capital market conditions. Professor Richard Ruback prepared this case as the basis for class discussion rather than to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of an administrative situation.
Copyright © 1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. To order copies or request permission to reproduce materials, call 1-800-545-7685, write Harvard Business School Publishing, Boston, MA 02163, or go to http://www. hbsp. harvard. edu. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, used in a spreadsheet, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the permi ssion of Harvard Business School.

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