J.W. Marriott Jr. plans to step down as chief executive officer of Marriott International Inc. in 2012, the year the hotel company marks its 85th anniversary and Marriott reaches his 60th year with the company.

The board of directors named Arne Sorenson to the post.

Marriott will continue to serve as chairman of the board, adding the title executive chairman to his responsibilities. Sorenson is currently president and chief operating officer, and he will maintain the title of president when he becomes the third CEO in the company’s history.  The board also appointed Robert McCarthy, currently group president for the company, as Marriott International’s chief operations officer.  All of the changes will be effective March 31.

Making the announcement on December 13, Marriott said, ‘I have been so fortunate to have worked with some of the most talented people in the world over the past six decades.  It’s amazing to me what we have accomplished over the years together, from a small root beer stand in Washington, D.C., to a global lodging powerhouse with operations in more than 70 countries.

‘Looking forward, one of my most important responsibilities is to work with our board of directors to ensure that we are best positioned to succeed in the future.  As executive chairman, in addition to my ongoing role as chairman of the board, I will continue to share my experience with our senior management team as we pursue our paths of growth and face the cyclical events I have confronted so many times in my career.’

Marriott said he personally recruited Sorenson to the company in 1996, noting, the CEO-elect ‘knows the business, lives our core values, and has earned the respect and admiration of all of our company’s major stakeholders.’

Sorenson’s career path at Marriott International included roles as chief financial officer, later adding oversight of European operations, before being appointed in 2009 as president and chief operating officer.  ‘I am tremendously optimistic about the future of our company, which continues to benefit from Mr. Marriott’s wise, visionary and steady leadership,’ Sorenson said. ‘I am looking forward to an exciting road ahead for Marriott International.’

As COO, McCarthy will continue to have oversight for Marriott’s Global Lodging Services division and its Ritz-Carlton brand.  The company’s presidents of its four continental operating divisions will report to both McCarthy and Sorenson. McCarthy began his 35-year career with Marriott as a restaurant waiter, which J.W. Marriott said is ‘a tribute to the opportunity that is possible at Marriott.’