White Lodging founder passes away at 70

Bruce White, who in 1985 grew a single hotel in Indiana into one of the largest hotel development and management companies in the U.S., died Thursday after a yearlong battle with cancer. He was 70.

White was the founder and chairman of Merrillville, Ind.-based White Lodging, which includes approximately 60 hotels and a collection of luxury ranches and restaurants. In his storied career, White developed, owned and managed more than 225 new hotels.

“Bruce was a visionary, a leader and a hospitality icon like no other,” said White Lodging CEO Jean-Luc Barone. “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 smalltown in Northwest Indiana.”

Added Deno Yiankes, former CEO of White Lodging and now a senior advisor and board member, “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 life-long learner and leader was unmatched.”

White was a 1975 graduate of Purdue University and had been a munificent benefactor of the school, establishing hospitality and real-estate focused programs. In recent years White and his family stepped up their philanthropic support, aligned with this three-word philosophy: Educate, Enhance, and Enjoy. Over the past five years, White has invested or pledged more than $100 million in legacy investments from family foundations that are designed to transform communities.

“In all its history, Indiana has produced few citizens the equal of Bruce White,” said Mitch Daniels, Purdue University president emeritus and former governor of the state of Indiana. “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.”

According to his bio, White took over several small Carlton Lodges in Indiana some 40 years ago and then partnered with the likes of Marriott International. White’s relationship with Marriott expanded over the years beginning when he built and opened the first Fairfield Inn franchise (in Merrillville, Ind.) 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.

“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. Bruce embodied that value,” said Bill Marriott, along with his wife, Donna. Bill Marriott is now the executive chairman of Marriott International. 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.”

Other Marriott executives echoed the same. “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 of United States and Canada for 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.

Current Marriott International CEO Tony Capuano said: “Bruce White was a valued long-term partner who had an indelible influence in the hospitality industry. 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.”

White accelerated White Lodging’s growth in 2006, with a focus on urban hotels, when he sold 100 of its suburban hotels. The proceeds of which 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. In 2022, White sold the company’s remaining suburban hotels and management contracts to re-focus all efforts on urban and experiential hotels.

Bruce White and his wife of 35 years, Betty, have three adult children and welcomed their first grandchild in 2021.