For first time, Carlson goes outside family for CEO

Minneapolis-based hospitality giant Carlson, one of the biggest family-held corporations in the USA, will be run from someone outside the family for the first time in its 70-year history.

CEO Marilyn Carlson Nelson, daughter of late company founder Curtis Carlson, announced Tuesday that Hubert Joly, a 48-year-old Frenchman, will succeed her on March 1.

Joly currently works in Paris running Carlson Wagonlit Travel, the business travel management firm in which Carlson has a majority stake.

He will move to the Minneapolis area, where Carlson is headquartered, to assume his new role. He'll become the company's fourth CEO. Nelson will continue as board chairman.

In 2006, Carlson had $37.1 billion in sales from operations in 150 companies. The company employs 190,000 people and manages more than 1,000 restaurants, and nearly 1,000 hotels, including Radissons and Country Inns & Suites.

Nelson, 67, one of the few female leaders in the male-dominated travel and tourism industry, once hoped to pass control to her son, Curtis Nelson.

But he was fired last year, sparking a messy legal battle. He claimed he was denied his rightful position at the company because of a "hostile" relationship with his mother and the board.

The situation prompted the Carlson board to search internally and externally for CEO candidates to run the company.

During the 14-month search process, Marilyn Carlson Nelson says they interviewed candidates from as far as Australia. Late in the process, they started considering Joly, she says.

"We recognized we had the opportunity to have the fresh eyes of an outsider, yet he still had the familiarity of an insider," she says.

Since taking the helm at the travel management company in 2004, sales have more than doubled to $22 billion.

He came to the travel management business from Vivendi Universal, where he was a member of the executive team. He was CEO of Vivendi Universal Games, Vivendi's Los Angeles-based video games division. From 1996 to 1999, he was president of EDS France. Prior to 1996, he spent 12 years as a consultant at McKinsey & Co., specializing in technology.

Curtis Carlson, the son of a Swedish immigrant and once a soap salesman for Procter & Gamble, started the business in 1938 with a $55 loan.

He first created Gold Bond Stamps, a consumer loyalty program, then in the 1960s began buying hotels and, later, travel agencies and restaurant chains.

Marilyn started working at the company as a teenager but left to raise four children. Curtis Carlson still firmly controlled the company when Marilyn returned in the early 1990s.

Marilyn Carlson Nelson took over as CEO in 1998, the year before her father died at age 84.