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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.

IndustryHospitality, Travel
HeadquartersMinnetonka, Minnesota, United States[1]
Key people
David Berg (President and CEO)
ProductsTravel services
Number of employees
About 175,000



Carlson was founded in 1938 as the Gold Bond Stamp Company by Curt Carlson, who used a $55 loan to start his venture.[2] 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.[3]

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.[4] 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. Rautio retired in 2015, leading to the company having separate CEOs for the hotel and travel businesses until the hotel business was sold to HNA.[5]

In 2016, Carlson sold Carlson Hotels, Inc. to HNA Tourism Group. In 2018, Carlson Hotels became Radisson Hotel Group.

Carlson HotelsEdit

A Radisson Blu hotel in Frankfurt, Germany

Carlson Hotels was a wholly owned division of Carlson Companies. Carlson Companies sold the whole hotel division in 2016.

In 1962, Carlson bought into his first Radisson Hotel in Minneapolis, a vintage property named after French explorer Pierre-Esprit Radisson. Two years later, he bought complete control of the hotel, which, by 1982, was deemed too old to renovate profitably and demolished.[citation needed] By this time, Carlson had also built the thriving Radisson South Bloomington and the Radisson in Minneapolis – successes that convinced the company to construct a contemporary new Radisson on the site of their original hotel.[citation needed]

In 1986, the company also established the Country Inns & Suites brand.[6]:92

In 1997, Carlson acquired the brand Regent Hotels[7] (was a partnership between Carlson and Four Seasons Hotels in 1996, according to other source[6]:93)

Carlson also bought Park Inn and Park Plaza in 2000.[6]:93 In 2005, Carlson acquired 25% stake of Rezidor Hotel Group, a business partner of the hotel division in the Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) markets. Rezidor became a subsidiary of the Carlson hotel group in 2010, despite retaining its listing status. The hotel group then rebraned as Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group in January 2012.

In 2016, Carlson Hotels (Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group) and their subsidiaries were sold from Carlson Companies to Chinese conglomerate HNA Group. The former division was renamed to Radisson Hotel Group in 2018.

Carlson RestaurantsEdit

Carlson Restaurants was a division of Carlson Companies.

Carlson acquired TGI Fridays (formerly T.G.I. Friday's), a restaurant chain in 1975.[6]:90 In 1976, Carlson acquired Country Kitchen, a chain of family-style restaurants.[8]

Carlson sold TGI Fridays in 2014[9] and Country Kitchen in 1997.[10]


Former Hotel BrandsEdit

Carlson's hotel subsidiaries now sold in 2016, include:


  1. ^ Contact." Carlson Companies. Retrieved on February 9, 2011. "Carlson 701 Carlson Parkway Minnetonka, MN 55305 U.S.A."
  2. ^ Guliani, L.K. (2016). Corporate Social Responsibility in the Hospitality and Tourism Industry. Advances in Hospitality, Tourism, and the Services Industry. IGI Global. pp. 74–75. ISBN 978-1-4666-9903-8. Retrieved December 9, 2017.
  3. ^ "Our Company | Carlson". Retrieved 2019-02-21.
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-02-22. Retrieved 2007-05-24.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ a b c d Rourke, Elisabeth; Salamie, David E.; Peippo, Kathleen; Rothburd, Carrie (2016) [previous versions of the article were published in vol.6, 22 and 87]. Pederson, Jay P. (ed.). "Carlson Companies, Inc". International Directory of Company Histories. Farmington Hills, Michigan: St. James Press (Gale, Cengage Learning group). 181. ISBN 978-1-55862-955-4.
  7. ^ Kwong, Robin (July 7, 2010). Written at Taipei. "Revival plan for luxury Regent hotels". Financial Times. London. Retrieved January 20, 2019.
  8. ^ Webster, Craig (2016). "Hotel chains, globalisation, and politics". In Ivanova, Maya; Ivanov, Stanislav; Magnini, Vincent P. (eds.). The Routledge Handbook of Hotel Chain Management. Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group). ISBN 9781315752532.
  9. ^ "Carlson sells TGI Fridays, reportedly for $800M". CNBC. May 20, 2014. Retrieved January 20, 2019.
  10. ^ "Country Kitchen Inc. sold". Minneapolis/St.Paul Business Journal. American City Business Journals. July 23, 1997. Retrieved January 20, 2019.

External linksEdit