Hilton, William

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Hilton, William

Hilton Hotels Corporation


William Barron Hilton is chairman of the board of Hilton Hotels Corporation, a worldwide system of over 260 hotels and casinos that host more than 40 million guests annually. Among the company's many notable properties are the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Honolulu, Hawaii, and the legendary Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. Hilton assumed control of the family firm after his father's death in 1979, and since then he has helped it to grow and prosper to the point where it ranks as one of the country's largest holders of real estate.

Personal Life

William Barron Hilton was born in Dallas, Texas, on October 23, 1927, the second of three boys. His father, the son of Norwegian immigrants, was Conrad Nicholson Hilton, the legendary founder of the Hilton hotel chain. His mother, Mary (Barron) Hilton, had married Conrad in 1925, some six years after he opened his first hotel.

In 1935, the Hilton family relocated to southern California in the wake of the hotel chain's tremendous growth. Conrad and Mary eventually divorced, and in 1941 Conrad married Hungarian-born actress Zsa Zsa Gabor. Their union produced a daughter before it, too, was dissolved.

As a young man, William Barron Hilton showed little interest in following his father into the hospitality industry. He served as a Navy photographer during World War II, then started his own business upon returning home. It was not until the early 1950s that he finally went to work for Hilton Hotels.

A pilot since 1947, Hilton is an aviation enthusiast who uses his leisure time to pursue his hobby. In addition to flying and ballooning, he enjoys hunting, fishing, and amateur photography. He and his wife, Marilyn (Hawley) Hilton, have eight children and numerous grandchildren.

Hilton is a member of many organizations and serves on the boards of a number of nonprofit groups. He is, for example, a member of the Conquistadores del Cielo, the PEACE Foundation Council, the International Order of St. Hubert, and the National Honorary Advisory Committee of the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation. He serves as the director for the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, the Southern California Visitors Council, and the Executive Council on Foreign Diplomats. He is an honorary director of the Great Western Council and of the Boy Scouts of America. Hilton also serves as a trustee for the City of Hope at the Saint John's Hospital and Health Center Foundation in Santa Monica, California, the World Mercy Fund, the Eisenhower Medical Center, and the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.

Career Details

"It isn't easy being Barron Hilton," noted a writer for Forbes magazine in 1988. "His performance is measured not only against tough competitors like Marriott and Hyatt but also against the record of his father . . . . If business is good, people say it's because of the assets Conrad put together. If business is bad, it's . . . Barron Hilton's fault."

Hilton did not originally gravitate to his father's line of work. In 1946, following a stint in the service during World War II, he went into business for himself selling orange juice products in southern California as the operator of a citrus distributorship. Five years later, he joined the operations department of his father's company. (Conrad Hilton thought it best for his son to start at the bottom of the corporate ladder.) The young man showed initiative and talent and in 1954 assumed the role of vice president.

In 1960 Hilton turned his attention to a very different type of business when he established the Los Angeles Chargers football team of the American Football League (AFL). The following year, he moved the team to San Diego, California, and served as its president until 1966.

That same year saw him take on the dual roles of president and chief executive officer for Hilton Hotels Corporation. In 1970, he bought two Las Vegas hotels, thus marking the beginning of the company's involvement in the gaming industry. (Such interests now account for 46 percent of the firm's revenues.) Upon the death of his father in 1979, Hilton took on the additional title and responsibility of chairman of the board.

Although Hilton inherited the company his father had founded and remained the person in charge of running it, he was not entirely happy with the terms of the will. The bulk of Conrad's 13.5 million shares of company stock (which constituted the majority of the family's wealth) had gone to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, a charity organization set up to aid Catholic nuns. Hilton fought to gain access to those shares and in a 1989 settlement was granted the rights to 4 million of them. Combined with his own personal holdings, this gave him control over more than 25 percent of the outstanding stock in Hilton Hotels Corporation. The remaining shares were split between the foundation and a 20-year trust, of which Hilton is the executor.

Hilton dabbled with the idea of selling his interest in Hilton Hotels Corporation in 1989 and again in 1995 so that he could retire. On both occasions, he felt the bids were too low, prompting him to remain with the company.

In 1995, however, Hilton hired financial whiz Stephen F. Bollenbach from the Walt Disney Company to serve as president of Hilton Hotels, making him the first person outside the family to head the company. (Hilton retained the title of chairman.) Much was made of the transfer of power and, since confidence in Bollenbach was high, the market responded favorably. Shares of Hilton stock rose 21 percent within 2 days of the announcement that he had joined the chain.

Hilton is now viewed as the company's indisputable master strategist. But that was not always so. During the 1970s, as other chains plunged ahead with plans to develop luxury hotels and vacation resorts, he was criticized for being too timid because he preferred to sit back and watch his competitors' successes and failures before making any moves of his own.

Hilton adopted a similarly cautious approach during the 1980s, when it seemed that everyone else in the business was either building or buying. Instead, he decided to sell. In 1985, for example, as Texas teetered on the brink of an economic bust, he sold his interest in Houston's Shamrock Hilton. The following year, he sold off two-thirds of his shares in the Chicago Hilton and Towers. And in 1987, he sold his interest in the Dallas Hilton and also gave up 50 percent of his stake in the Beverly Hilton to Merv Griffin for $50 million.

Hilton now owns or partially owns just a few choice properties (such as New York City's Waldorf-Astoria) and manages or franchises the rest of the hotels bearing the Hilton name. His decision to sell in the midst of a building boom was initially regarded by many in the industry as foolhardy, but numerous other hotel chains soon followed suit. And the remarkable rise in the value of Hilton stock through the period proved that the chairman of the board was indeed a savvy strategist.

His characteristic prudence was not as much in evidence during the 1990s, however. "Barron Hilton has undergone an awesome change in style, trading in his cautious stance for a gambler's studied swagger," declared a writer for Financial World in 1992. Noting the rise of gambling on Indian reservations nationwide, Hilton calculated that state and local governments would eventually move to legalize gaming as a source of revenue. Leaving his competitors in the dust, he led the pack with construction of new casinos and proposals for gambling complexes.

In January 1996, Hilton announced a global expansion program designed to bring the company's total room inventory to 100,000 by the year 2000. This goal was well within reach only a year later, when Hilton Hotels Corporation claimed to operate 16 casinos and 240 hotel properties with nearly 100,000 rooms. Some of the credit for this success could be attributed to the firm's 1996 acquisition of the Bally Entertainment Corporation in a deal worth some $3 billion.

The global expansion project has had a positive effect on the bottom line at Hilton Hotels Corporation. Net income earnings during the first quarter of 1998 were reported to be $77 million, an increase of 12 percent over the same period a year earlier. Given the chain's continued growth under the management of Barron Hilton, the company seems assured of financial success well into the twenty-first century.

Social and Economic Impact

Boasting a name that has become nearly synonymous with the word "hotel," Hilton ranked as the sixth largest company of its kind in the United States in 1997. It develops, owns, manages, and/or franchises hotels, hotel-casinos, resorts, and vacation-ownership resorts. In addition, it enjoys worldwide recognition thanks to its many overseas facilities and gaming operations. And through its various subsidiaries, it also has interests in designing and furnishing hotels and providing computer reservations for both hotel rooms and rental cars.

Chronology: William Hilton

1927: Born.

1946: Established citrus juice distributorship.

1951: Joined Hilton Hotels Corporation.

1954: Named vice president of Hilton Hotels Corporation.

1960: Founded Los Angeles Chargers football team.

1961: Moved football team to San Diego, California.

1966: Named president and chief executive officer of Hilton Hotels Corporation.

1979: Named chairman of the board of Hilton Hotels Corporation.

1982: Made first appearance on Forbes magazine's list of the "400 Richest People in America."

1995: Stepped down as president of Hilton Hotels Corporation.

1996: Announced global expansion program for Hilton Hotels Corporation.

As owner of more than one-fourth of the company's shares with the right to exercise his executive privilege over a majority of the remaining shares, Barron Hilton presides over a vast and powerful empire of some 260 hotels and casinos that employ almost 62,000 people. His personal wealth is now estimated to be over $600 million, enough to make him a regular on Forbes magazine's list of the "400 Richest People In America" since 1982.

Sources of Information

Contact at: Hilton Hotels Corporation
9336 Civic Center Dr.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210-3604
Business Phone: (310)278-4321
URL: http://www.hilton.com


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