Carlson (company)

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Privately held company
IndustryFamily office
Founded1938; 81 years ago (1938)
FounderCurt Carlson
HeadquartersMinnetonka, Minnesota, United States[1]
Key people
Andy Cantwell, CEO of Carlson Private Capital Partners
Kurt Ekert, CEO of CWT
OwnerBarbara Carlson Gage and Marilyn Carlson Nelson
A Radisson Blu hotel in Frankfurt, Germany

Carlson is a privately held company headquartered in Minnetonka, Minnesota, United States. Its primary subsidiaries are CWT, a travel management company, and Carlson Private Capital Partners, a family office that manages the wealth of the owners. It previously held interests in hotels, including Radisson Hotels, and restaurants, including TGI Fridays. The company is owned by Barbara Carlson Gage and Marilyn Carlson Nelson, daughters of the founder, Curt Carlson.


Carlson was founded as the Gold Bond Stamp Company by Curt Carlson, with a $55 loan from his landlord, in 1938, during the Great Depression.[2][3] Carlson used "Gold Bond Stamps", a loyalty program based on trading stamps, to provide consumer incentives for grocery stores, supermarkets, and gas stations.[4] The stamps could be redeemed for various items such as patio furniture or a mink coat.[3] During the 1950s, C.F. Carlson was the largest supplier of mink coats in the United States.[3]

The company was renamed Carlson Companies, Inc. in 1973.[3]

In 1962, Carlson bought into his first Radisson Hotel, a vintage property in Minneapolis named after French explorer Pierre-Esprit Radisson.[5][6] The chain grew rapidly by franchising the name and taking management contracts for new hotels throughout the United States.

In 1975, Carlson acquired an interest in TGI Fridays, and took full ownership in 1989.[7]

In 1977, Carlson acquired Country Kitchen, a chain of family-style restaurants.[8]

In 1981, it acquired E.F. MacDonald Motivation Co., another incentive management company, making the company the largest trading stamp company in the world. At that time, many employees were working 6 days per week and not receiving a higher pay than at similar companies with less demands.[9]

In 1986, the company also established the Country Inns & Suites brand.[10]

In 1989, Edwin C. "Skip" Gage, the son-in-law of the founder, became CEO of the company.[11]

In 1994, Carlson and Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, a division of Accor, merged their travel agencies to form CWT, a travel management company.[12]

In 1997, the company started an electronic incentive program named In 2011, the program was replaced by Club Carlson.

In 1997, the company sold Country Kitchen.[13]

In 1997, Carlson acquired Regent Hotels & Resorts from Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.[14] Carlson gained the rights to develop future hotels, while Four Seasons maintained management of 9 hotels.[15]

In Spring 1998, Curt Carlson named his daughter Marilyn Carlson Nelson as his successor. He died in February 1999, 9 days after suffering a stroke.[16][2][17]

In 2000, the company acquired Park Inn by Radisson and Park Plaza Hotels & Resorts.[18]

In 2005, Carlson acquired 25% 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 rebranded as Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group in January 2012.[19]

Hubert Joly became president and CEO in 2008 and served in this capacity until August 2012, when he was succeeded by Trudy Rautio. Rautio previously served as CFO.[20]

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.[21]

In 2014, the company sold TGI Fridays to Sentinel Capital Partners and TriArtisan Capital Partners for a reported $800 million.[22]

In 2016, the company sold its hotel division, including Rezidor Hotel Group, Country Inns & Suites by Carlson, Park Inn by Radisson, Park Plaza Hotels & Resorts, Radisson Hotels, Radisson Blu Hotels, and Radisson Red Hotels were sold to Chinese conglomerate HNA Group. The division was renamed Radisson Hotel Group in 2018.

In 2018, the company launched a family office to invest its cash.[23] It also renovated its headquarters.[24]


  1. ^ "News & Contacts". Carlson.
  2. ^ a b Thomas Jr., Robert (February 22, 1999). "Curtis L. Carlson, 84, Founder Of Trading Stamp Conglomerate". The New York Times.
  3. ^ a b c d Lagorio-Chafkin, Christine (April 25, 2019). "The Surprising Principle That Has Guided This Family Business for 80 Years: 'Don't Fall in Love'". Inc.
  4. ^ "Carlsons' bitter family battle becomes public in court". KNOW-FM. Associated Press. May 2, 2007.
  5. ^ Norfleet, Nicole (March 10, 2018). "Radisson is investing nearly $200 million in brand". Star Tribune.
  6. ^ Norfleet, Nicole (December 1, 2017). "Carlson Hotels to change name as Minnesota company looks to future". Star Tribune.
  7. ^ "Carlson to Merge With Friday's". The New York Times. Associated Press. July 31, 1989.
  8. ^ Stockdale, Charles B. (October 14, 2011). "Ten vanishing American restaurant chains". NBC News.
  9. ^ Kennedy, Tony (July 22, 1988). "Richest Man in Minnesota Reflects on 50 Years of Business". Associated Press.
  10. ^ "Country Inn & Suites by Radisson". Entrepreneur.
  11. ^ McDowell, Edwin (April 5, 1992). "Carlson Cos.' 77-year-old CEO has mellowed with age, but is still a tough boss". Baltimore Sun.
  12. ^ Biesiada, Jamie (February 21, 2019). "CWT scrubs Carlson and Wagonlit from name". Travel Weekly.
  13. ^ "Country Kitchen Inc. sold". American City Business Journals. July 23, 1997.
  14. ^ Kwong, Robin (July 7, 2010). "Revival plan for luxury Regent hotels". Financial Times.
  15. ^ "The Regent Beverly Wilshire Ranks 37th in the Continental United States and Canada According to Trav". Hotel Online. October 1, 1999.
  16. ^ Zdechlik, Mark (February 22, 1999). "Curt Carlson Obit". Minnesota Public Radio.
  17. ^ "Paid Notice: Deaths CARLSON, CURTIS L.". The New York Times. March 3, 1999.
  18. ^ "Olympus Hospitality Group and Carlson Hotels Worldwide Align to Grow Brands; Radisson, Regent, Park Plaza and Park Inn Brands Targeted for New Acquisitions and Franchises" (Press release). Hospitality Net. 6 June 2000.
  19. ^ King, Danny (January 18, 2012). "Carlson and Rezidor merge". Travel Weekly.
  20. ^ "Carlson appoints Trudy Rautio as President and CEO; Hubert Joly resigns" (Press release). Hospitality Net. 20 August 2012.
  21. ^ Phelps, David (March 6, 2015). "Carlson CEO Trudy Rautio retires; new management team named". Star Tribune.
  22. ^ "Carlson sells TGI Fridays, reportedly for $800M". CNBC. May 20, 2014.
  23. ^ Norfleet, Nicole (May 3, 2018). "Carlson family starts investment firm, with an eye on family-owned and midsized firms". Star Tribune.
  24. ^ Norfleet, Nicole (September 5, 2018). "Carlson HQ to be renovated and open to other tenants". Star Tribune.

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