Carlson Companies

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Closely Held Corporation
Industry Hospitality, Travel
Founded 1938
Headquarters Minnetonka, Minnesota, United States
Key people
David Berg (President and CEO)
Products Travel services
Number of employees
About 175,000

Carlson (often referred to by its previous name Carlson Companies) is an American privately held international corporation in the travel industries. Headquartered in Minnetonka, Minnesota, a Minneapolis suburb, Carlson brands and services, including franchised operations, employ more than 175,000 people in more than 160 countries and territories.[citation needed] The company's 2012 sales, including those from franchised operations, totaled $37.6 billion. It is one of the largest family-held corporations in the United States.


Carlson was founded in 1938 as the Gold Bond Stamp Company by Curt Carlson, who used a $55 loan to start his venture. Founded during the Great Depression, he used "Gold Bond Stamps", a consumer loyalty program based on trading stamps, to provide consumer incentive for grocery stores.

Gold Bond stamps were used as customer incentives in many supermarkets and gas stations (and other businesses) and they could be redeemed for a large array of merchandise, from a set of steak knives up to a mink coat, during the 1950s, Carlson was the largest supplier of mink coats in the United States. Sales were brisk until the late 1960s when trading stamps began to lose popularity.

The company was renamed Carlson Companies, Inc. in 1973 as they diversified into the hospitality, corporate incentive and travel industries.

In 1962, Carlson purchased their first Radisson Hotel in Minneapolis. CCI (as it was known internally) then went on to purchase T.G.I. Friday's in 1975 and Country Kitchen International in 1977. In 1987, Carlson founded Country Inns & Suites By Carlson. In 2000, Carlson acquired the Park Plaza and Park Inn brands.

The original Radisson acquisition was a vintage Minneapolis hotel, named for French explorer Pierre Radisson. Mr. Carlson and nine local businessmen friends bought it jointly, each holding ten percent, the other owners later dropped out one by one, Curt Carlson buying up each person's share until he owned the entire hotel. It was demolished in 1982, considered as being too old and deteriorated to renovate profitably. However, Carlson had built an associated hotel a few years earlier, the Radisson South in south suburban Bloomington, which was thriving. That, and the success of a Radisson Inn built near the company headquarters, motivated Carlson to construct a new Radisson on the downtown site of the demolished hotel. Thereafter, the chain grew rapidly by franchising the name and taking management contracts for new hotels throughout the USA.

By the early 1980s, Curt Carlson had acquired over 50 diverse businesses, most of them small and some not running profitably. Under the administration of president Edwin C. "Skip" Gage, husband of Curt's younger daughter, the majority of those small enterprises were sold. The company then purchased the MacDonald Plaid Stamp business (a public company listed on the New York Stock Exchange) and merged it with the Gold Bond Stamp business to become the largest trading stamp company in the world.

In 1994, Carlson Travel Group and Paris-based Wagonlit Travel signed an alliance to form Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT)— one of the world's largest business travel management companies.

In a return to their roots, the Carlson Companies started an electronic consumer incentive program named in 1997. The program later was modified and became goldpoints plus, the incentive program of Carlson Hotels. (Effective March 31, 2011, Club Carlson replaced the goldpoints plus hotel loyalty program.)

In 1998, Curtis L. Carlson named his daughter Marilyn Carlson Nelson as his successor; a year later he died.[1] Hubert Joly became Carlson's president and chief executive officer in 2008 and served in this capacity until August 2012, when he was succeeded by Trudy Rautio. Rautio most previously served as the company's CFO; in May 2013, Diana Nelson assumed the chairmanship of the board of directors, succeeding her mother, Marilyn Carlson Nelson, who also continues to serve as chairman emeritus.

Radisson Blu Hotel in Frankfurt, Germany

Carlson Family Politics:[1]

Curtis Nelson, the grandson of the man who founded Carlson Companies, has sued the family business and his mother, claiming he was denied his rightful position at the company's helm because of a "hostile" relationship with his mother and the company board.

In the lawsuit filed Tuesday, Nelson demands his share of the company, which, according to Forbes magazine, had total revenues of nearly $5 billion in 2005.

The lawsuit pits the third-generation heir who wanted to be the next chief executive against Marilyn Carlson Nelson, who decided her son wasn't up to the job.

Curtis had expectations and so did his mother, and apparently they weren't clear on it," said Tom Hubler, a family business consultant. "They need to sit down and forgive each other and get this settled out of court."

Carlson Companies, one of the largest family-held corporations in the country, was built by Minnesota business icon Curt Carlson -- who started the business in 1938 with a $55 loan.

"Curtis had expectations and so did his mother, and apparently they weren't clear on it. They need to sit down and forgive each other and get this settled out of court.”

Tom Huber, family business consultant It was originally Gold Bond Stamps, a consumer loyalty program, then grew to a hospitality, travel and marketing enterprise with about 170,000 employees in more than 140 countries.

Carlson Nelson, the current CEO, intended to retire at age 65 but held on, hoping her son would rise to the job, according to legal documents. Carlson Nelson is now 78. It's unclear what the board of directors will do about selecting her successor.

Concerns about Curtis Nelson peaked about a year ago when the company's board removed him as president of operations, he then declined an offer to be vice chairman, storming out of the board room on at least one occasion.

Carlson Companies formally fired Curtis Nelson at the end of January after banning him from the corporate campus.

In an interview from the British Virgin Islands, Nelson told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that his ouster was based on "family politics."

Lawyers for the company and Carlson Nelson say neither Nelson nor any family member has a legal claim on company assets and that Curt Carlson worked to prevent a division of the company before his death in 1999.

"This is a painful time for Marilyn and (husband) Glen and the family, but you have to do what's best for the company, its employees and its customers," said Mike Ciresi, the attorney representing the company and its board of directors.

The Carlsons are a prominent business family in Minnesota. Marilyn Carlson Nelson is known for her civic interests and for regularly making the list of the most powerful women in corporate America, her net worth in 2005 was estimated at $1.4 billion by Forbes.

Curtis Nelson began working in the family business at age 12, as a dishwasher, busboy, cook and weekend head cook at the Country Kitchen in Wayzata, he graduated from Cornell University in 1986 and entered a hotel management training program.

In 1989, at his grandfather's urging, Nelson joined the business.

"Curt assured Curtis that his ultimate goal was for Curtis to become CEO of the company," the lawsuit said. From the time Nelson joined the company, "Curt and Marilyn made various public statements that Curtis was being groomed to become CEO."

But in a countersuit, the company and its board said Nelson engaged in "self-defeating" conduct extending beyond "erratic business judgment."

During a leave of absence in May 2003, Nelson agreed that if he remained "clean and sober" and met other conditions, he would be reinstated as COO, the company response said.

Despite the agreement to stay sober, "Curtis used his company computer and company e-mail system -- in 2006, while he was president and COO -- to make purchases of large quantities of controlled substances from multiple on-line pharmacies," the company response said. "He also ordered a product called 'Quick-Detox,' which is advertised as helping users to 'pass any drug test!!!'"

In the interview, Nelson said he was an addict and alcoholic and struggled with painkiller addiction after his liver transplant in 2000.

In 2003, independent board members Lawrence Perlman, Duane Kullberg and Harald Einsmann told Nelson in a memo that there was no assurance he would become CEO.

Referring to an undisclosed occurrence, the board members wrote, "Before this recent event, there was no assurance that you would get the CEO job and now the mountain you need to climb is higher."

The company also alleges Nelson owes it $600,000 for management services for a private hotel venture, the company also says Nelson made poor business decisions.

Still, Nelson claims his mother stripped him of responsibilities without identifying "any objective measures of performance where Curtis had been rated less than outstanding."

The company response said Carlson Nelson was her son's biggest supporter and the board criticized her for having a "blind spot" for him.

The responses also say Nelson received more than $5.5 million from Carlson Companies for his 2006 bonus, termination payments, residual and deferred compensation. He also gets health care coverage until age 65.

"In addition, from 2004 to 2006, he received more than $5.4 million in cash and asset distributions from the trusts. (Yet he complains of 'pitifully small dividends.') He will get ongoing trust distributions. He is not entitled - or deserving - of anything more," the company response said.

In 2016, HNA Tourism Group completed an acquisition of the subsidiary Carlson Hotels Inc.. In 2018, Carlson Hotels became Radisson Hotel Group.


Former Hotel Brands[edit]

Carlson's hotel subsidiaries now sold to HNA include:


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-02-22. Retrieved 2007-05-24. 

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