This article talks about Conrad Hilton’s biography and the success story of his business. It was the man who changed the usual view on running the hotel business in the United States and almost every country around the globe. Enjoy reading the story about innovations, trials, failures, and success.
Conrad Nicholson Hilton (December 25, 1887 – January 3, 1979) was an American hotelier who founded the Hilton Hotels chain. Conrad Hilton was one of the first persons to introduce a 1-5 star hotel rating system into this business. In addition, he managed to combine hotels with restaurants and casinos. The story of how the legend was born hospitality. This is a story about how the hospitality business was established.
Conrad Hilton was born on December 25, 1887. He was the eighth child in the family. His father, August Hilton, ran a small grocery store business. We can not say that the store brought a lot of money, but the family did not starve, and Conrad successfully received a higher education at the Mining Institute. He was an engineer by profession, but it did not attract him much. Since childhood, Conrad Hilton wanted to become a bank manager. He saw himself among the people who were tossing millions of dollars. But the war came.
In 1917, Conrad went to the army as a volunteer. Eighteen months later, he returned home and discovered his father had died in a car accident. Conrad had to take care of his future on his own. However, it was not so easy to start the business he dreamed of. Conrad Hilton suffered one failure after another. When he was 31, his first bank went bankrupt, which lasted less than a year. The young man had a purse of $5,000 at that time and a head filled with dreams of banking. But Hilton was not destined to run a banking business.
In 1979, at 91, Conrad Hilton died of natural causes, leaving $10,000 each to his nephews, nieces, and daughter and $500,000 to his two siblings. He also left most of his estate to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.
Conrad Hilton was known for his unwavering optimism, honesty, and sense of fairness. During his time as a hotelier, his hotels grew to be the largest and most profitable in the world. During the 1919 oil boom, he bought his first hotel in Cisco, Texas, after learning that room occupancy changed three times a day.
Having arrived in Cisco (TX), 31-year-old Hilton stayed at the nondescript Mobley Hotel. The young entrepreneur immediately noticed a queue lined up, hoping to get a room. However, no rooms were available, and the owner was tired of the work and did not plan to expand. The customers had to find a place to sleep in the other hotels. The owner just wanted to retire. It was one of those situations when a person was at the right time and place (the same thing happened with Ray Kroc when he entered the McDonald Brothers’ restaurant).
Having bought Mobley, Conrad began to improve the hotel. He initially equipped the hotel with many rooms, thereby eliminating future queues. Then he came up with the idea that he could earn more on guests by offering them additional services and products that would entertain them (at that time, most hotels were like boring coaching inns). Thus, Conrad placed small shop windows in the lobby around the columns, which featured various daily consumption items (newspapers, magazines, razors, toothbrushes, and toothpaste). Conrad later remarked that one shop window brought him $8,000 a month.
Conrad Hilton’s family was stunned by his success, who had already considered him a loser after all his failures in the banking business. However, a year later, after purchasing Mobley Hotel, Conrad purchased his second hotel in Fort Worth and then some more. In 1924, Conrad Hilton became the owner of 350 guest rooms. He went up to when finances allowed him to build his hotel. And after a year, in 1925, there was a stunning opening (at the time) of the Dallas Hilton Hotel, which had 300 rooms.
In 1925, the 38-year-old entrepreneur finally married Mary Adelaide Barron. After nine years of living together, they divorced in 1934.
I had a good time, given that the Dallas Hilton was the first hotel that bore the name of the company’s founder. However, there was no time to relax. Three years later, there was an economic crisis. The hotel business hit hard: people started traveling less, and business travel declined.
By the beginning of the 30s, 80% of the United States hotel companies went bankrupt. Conrad Hilton was forced to sell his business. However, the hotel business was not the best option at those times, and the owners of the Hilton Hotels chain hired Conrad as a manager of the hotel chain by the end of the Great Depression and wanted to sell him the hotel business back.
In 1942, Conrad married the actress Zsa Zsa Gabor. They were living together till 1946. Conrad Hilton and Zsa Zsa Gabor had a daughter, Constance Francesca Hilton, born in 1947.
After a few years, Conrad Hilton gradually regained his business. He redeemed hotels one by one. In 1949, he acquired one of the most luxurious hotels in New York – Waldorf-Astoria and opened his first hotel outside the U.S., in Puerto Rico.
The Largest Deal
In 1954, Conrad Hilton shocked the financial world, having made the largest deal in the history of America. He purchased Statler Hotels company for $111 million, the main competitor to Hilton. Such acquisitions were possible for Conrad Hilton because, in 1946, his company went public, thereby obtaining additional capital injections from outside investors.
It is worth mentioning that there were already two companies in Conrad’s hands by that time: Hilton Hotels, targeted to the United States, and Hilton International, dedicated to international business development. Hilton Hotels started to attract more and more guests. The company’s success could be explained simply: rich people, royal personages, or show business stars required unobtrusive comfort as ordinary middle-class members. Hidden comfort was a significant luxury. That’s why movie stars and other wealthy individuals liked staying at Hilton Hotels.
But one thing is to talk about hidden comfort, and another is to provide it. What was done to it? First, nobody had placed small shop windows in the hotel’s lobbies like in Hilton Hotels. Second, nobody before had equipped its rooms with air conditioning, entrance doors with automatic control, alarm clocks, and telephones that included direct dialing (no need to call reception and ask to be connected with a specific telephone number). Third, Hilton Hotels were built close to airports and seaports, thereby offering travelers special packages (round-off). Fourth, there was a unique reward system for guests called Hilton Honors.
Resignation and Death
In 1966, Conrad Hilton resigned from his role by passing control of the hotel chain to his son, Barron Hilton. At that time, Conrad Hilton, the famous hotelier (that’s what he liked to call himself after hearing the French word – ‘hôtelier’), wrote his autobiography Be My Guest (1957).
Conrad Hilton married Mary Frances in 1976. He founded the Hilton Foundation charity and bequeathed all his property to the foundation after he died on January 3, 1979, in Dallas, where he built his first Hilton Hotel. But the story does not end there. Conrad Hilton had eight children and 100 grandchildren.
Barron Hilton won back the right to the inheritance from his father’s charity. It took about nine years to do that. It should be said that his son managed the hotel business and made several critical changes to the Hilton Hotels chain. First, the company introduced a franchise model. The truth is Conrad himself introduced this model, but to bring it to the work was done by the son. Second, in 1973, the company introduced a remote reference system called Hiltron. It worked that way: when a client dialed a hotline number, they could listen to a recording, including the availability of the hotel rooms. In 1999, the system was replaced with a more powerful called Hilstar, which took into account the capabilities of the Internet.
Besides, one more fact in the history of the Hilton Hotels is worth noting: merging hotels and casinos. The first casino hotel appeared in the late ’60s under the guidance of Conrad Hilton in Las Vegas. It was one of the most controversial steps in the company’s history. In 1987, Ladbroke Group acquired Hilton International, whose primary business was gambling. In 2007, an investment group, Blackstone, led by Stephen Schwarzman, acquired the entire Hilton family hotel business for $26 billion and paid off the company’s debts, which reached $7.5 billion.
The book Be My Guest by Conrad Hilton is still like a Bible for all hotels. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading Conrad Hilton’s biography and success story.
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