Hospitality giant Carlson taps non-family member as 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 the late company founder Curtis Carlson, Tueday announced that Hubert Joly, a 48-year-old Frenchman, will suceed 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. When Joly takes over as CEO, he'll become the company's fourth CEO since its inception. Nelson will continue as chairman.

In 2006, Carlson had $37.1 billion in sales from operations in 150 companies. The company employs 200,000 people and manages more than 1,000 restaurants and nearly 1,000 hotels, including Radisson and Country Inns and 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 travel, hotel restaurant and marketing giant. 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 still had the track record, familiarity and ability to hit the ground running of an insider," she says.

In Joly, not only did Carlson find a globetrotting executive well positioned to continue Carlson's global growth streak that Nelson pioneered. But he also had a proven track record running Carlson Wagonlit Travel.

Since taking the helm there, the firm's sales soared to about $22 billion last year from $9 billion in 2003. 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.

Before Vivendi between 1996 and 1999, he was Electronic Data Systems' president of EDS France. Prior to 1996, he spent 12 years as a consultant at McKinsey & Co. specializing in the high-tech industry.

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