He resigned late last week after repeated clashes with the board at the world's third-largest hotel chain over his management style. Mr. Heyer brought an aggressive, forward-thinking manner to Starwood, much as he did at Coca-Cola Co., where he also lost a power struggle.
"While the board appreciates the good work Steve Heyer has done to position Starwood for the future, issues with regard to his management style have led us to lose confidence in his leadership," Stephen R. Quazzo, chairman of the governance and nominating committee of the Starwood board said in a frankly worded release announcing the split.
Mr. Heyer, 54, had been the company's CEO since October 2004; he was the hand-picked choice of former Starwood CEO Barry Sternlicht, now the company's chairman-emeritus. Mr. Heyer had just left as Coca-Cola's president after the board passed him over for the CEO post.
At the time, analysts were worried Mr. Heyer and Mr. Sternlicht would clash, given their strong personalities. But analysts didn't think Mr. Heyer would have a problem with Starwood's board, which they considered to be generally receptive to innovative ideas.
Hoping for hipness
While at Coke, Mr. Heyer galvanized the marketing industry with his call for branded-entertainment strategies. He brought many of the same ideas to Starwood, hoping to make the brand as hip as Apple and Nike.
Within six months of his hire, Mr. Heyer signed Creative Artists Agency to work with the hotel brand, hired former Nike and Starbucks veteran Scott Bedbury to work with Starwood, and named former Coca-Cola Chief Marketing Officer Javier Benito as Starwood's CMO.
Bruce W. Duncan, 55, Starwood's chairman since 2005 and a director since 1995, will also serve as interim CEO while the board conducts a search for a permanent replacement.
In the release, Mr. Heyer said he was "asked to lead the company through a complex transition, and at the same time create an exciting platform for future growth. I am proud of what we have accomplished in the last two-and-a-half years and believe Bruce Duncan and the team will continue to execute Starwood's strategy with distinction."
The board has retained Spencer Stuart to assist in its search for a permanent CEO.