Barron Hilton spent three decades as president and CEO of Hilton Hotels Corporation, one of the largest and most successful companies in the industry.
Barron Hilton’s father, Conrad Hilton, purchased his first hotel in Cisco, Texas, during the 1919 oil boom. Thirty years later, his acquisition of the famed Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City made national headlines. When Hilton Hotels Corporation acquired control of Statler Hotels in 1954, the real estate transaction was the largest the world had known to date.
As a teenager, Hilton worked at the Town House in Los Angeles, parking cars for hotel guests. Barron emulated his father’s optimism and enthusiasm for life—and, like his father, carried himself as a gentleman at all times.
After joining the Navy at age 17 and serving at Pearl Harbor, Hilton began a successful 20-year career as an entrepreneur. Based on his growing success, his father invited him to join Hilton Hotels Corporation in 1954 as a vice president, while allowing him to continue to manage his outside business interests. As the voice of a new generation, Hilton convinced the company’s operating committee to install such innovative amenities as direct-dial phones, televisions and air conditioning in every guestroom.
Hilton also headed the company’s real estate division and developed the successful Hilton Inn franchise program. Franchise fees became a valuable additional revenue stream for the company, while enabling Hilton Hotels to expand into lucrative, emerging markets such as airports, resort areas and new commercial centers beyond the traditional central business district downtown.
Conrad Hilton spun off the company’s international division to shareholders in 1964 and assumed the position of president of Hilton Hotels International. Based on all his success, Barron was elected to succeed his father as head of Hilton Hotels Corporation in 1966. Soon after, his father decided to sell Hilton International to Trans World Corp., the parent of Trans World Airlines (TWA), and directed Barron to handle the negotiations. Barron, who knew the aviation business well, completed negotiations in 1967.
In 1970, Barron Hilton secured approval from the company’s board of directors to purchase the Flamingo Hotel and the International hotel in Las Vegas from financier Kirk Kerkorian—the first time a publicly traded company had ever acquired a casino. The two casino/resorts provided the company with valuable diversity within the same market. The Flamingo was located on the famous Las Vegas Strip, while the International was located next to the city’s Convention Center. The company began a series of expansions that more than doubled the size of the two resorts, which soon contributed as much revenue as all the other 160 Hiltons in the United States.
Hilton continued to expand the domestic hotel chain through franchising and selective acquisition of hotels it would also manage. During his three decades as president and CEO of Hilton Hotels Corporation, Barron Hilton maintained the strongest balance sheet in the industry with enough cash and liquid investments to carry the company through recessions and slowdowns.
He remained on the board of directors as his hand-picked successor, Stephen F. Bollenbach, presided over a decade of mergers and acquisitions that made Hilton Hotels Corporation one of the largest and most successful companies in the industry. The company’s hotel and gaming operations were purchased by private equity firms in 2006 and 2007.
Today, Hilton Inc. is comprised of 17 brands, with more than 5,900 properties in 114 countries around the world—much of this success a result of Barron’s steadfast leadership.