Steve Bollenbach’s dream has been realized.
Bollenbach, the financial whiz who led Hilton Hotels Corporation’s growth explosion that was exemplified by the merger with Promus Hotels Corporation on the final day of 1999, envisioned a worldwide Hilton that melded HHC with Hilton International.
That vision became reality last month when the company announced its new corporate name and logo. Hilton Worldwide, as the McLean, Virginia-based company now is known, is among the world’s largest hotel companies with more than 3,400 owned, managed, licensed or franchised hotels in its portfolio.
I’m pretty certain Bollenbach wouldn’t be fond of the company’s recently completed move to Virginia from Beverly Hills, California, because he seemed to be a California type of guy. But I’d bet he likes the name change. He declined to comment about the Hilton name change when contacted last week.
It was Bollenbach who spearhead the move in the mid-1990s to bring together Hilton Hotels Corporation and Hilton International—two companies that had been separated since the mid-1960s. It started with a marketing alliance and snowballed from there.
The two companies eventually morphed into one, and when The Blackstone Group bought it for US$26 billion in 2007, it became a privately held hotel behemoth that spans the globe. Currently, it has 10 brands comprising more than 3,300 hotels in its portfolio. During a January 2001 interview in his office, Bollenbach told me about his goal of uniting the two Hilton companies and making them a unified worldwide presence. And while Bollenbach retired from Hilton in October 2007, it’s nice to see his vision realized.
The name Hilton Worldwide is a good choice because it describes exactly what the company represents: A global conglomerate with brands that reach around the world.
“This is an incredibly dynamic time in our company’s history,” said Christopher J. Nassetta, president and CEO of Hilton Worldwide, in a statement when the name change was completed. “On the heels of a successful move into our new global headquarters, we’re excited to launch our corporate identity that better represents who we are today and our aspirations for the company going forward. While our corporate name and logo have changed, the best of our company—the passion, commitment and high standards of our team members that translate into exceptional experiences for our guests—remains the same.”
Hilton has had its share of negative publicity thanks to the civil lawsuit filed by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide alleging corporate espionage regarding Hilton’s launch of it short-lived Denizen brand. And just as there were rumblings an out-of-court settlement was on the horizon, The Wall Street Journal reported on 7 October 2009 the case has gone to a federal grand jury.
In response to that article, Nassetta sent a letter to owners saying there was nothing new reported in the story and Hilton remains committed to developing its luxury and lifestyle brands. That’s why the company brought on John Vanderslice, formerly of Club Med, to lead that charge, he said.
Only time will tell how deep this mess is for Hilton and for Blackstone. An out-of-court settlement with Starwood would be ideal for Hilton and Blackstone, but a federal grand jury trial would drag both companies through unwanted public scrutiny—and who knows how that will end up.
Questions remain about Hilton’s future under Blackstone, and if all of the brands currently in the Hilton portfolio will remain there for long. But for now at least, Hilton Worldwide is a major player on the global hotel stage. Its leadership position can’t be underestimated, and its new name reinforces what a worldwide force it has become.