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Curtis Leroy Carlson

Founder & Chairman of Carlson Companies

Curtis Leroy CarlsonCurtis L. Carlson, the son of a Minneapolis grocer, proved his business acumen at a young age. At 12 years old, he took on several paper routes, soon organizing a network of routes and hiring his brothers to manage them. It was clear Carlson was destined to be a businessman.

After earning a bachelor of arts in economics in 1937 from the University of Minnesota, Carlson began a promising career as a salesman with Procter and Gamble, winning the Number One Salesman award for 1938. He also created Gold Bond Stamps, an innovative company that introduced a program for grocers to offer rewards to shoppers, making Carlson the first to introduce stamp trading into the food business. Grocers who offered Gold Stamps to their customers saw their business increase by 60 percent and by 1953, Gold Bond trading stamps had become a household name. Today’s frequent-flyer and frequent-guest programs are extensions of the trading-stamp concept and objective—to spur sales and command consumer loyalty.

Carlson’s extraordinary success in the stamp business eventually enabled him to diversify his capital. In addition to real-estate property, he purchased 50 percent interest in the downtown Minneapolis Radisson Hotel in 1960, acquired the remaining shares two years later, and quickly began adding new hotels.

Carlson’s entrepreneurial and leadership skills became legendary, and his reach vast. His hospitality interests included Carlson Hospitality Worldwide with Regent International Hotels and Resorts, Radisson Hotels Worldwide, Radisson Seven Seas Cruises, and Country Inns & Suites by Carlson. These lodging operations included over 470 locations in 42 countries and four cruise ships sailing worldwide. Carlson Marketing Group is a worldwide marketing services company. The company also owns TGI Friday’s and a large travel-management company, among other interests. In the late 1990s, when Carlson was inducted into the Hall of Honor, Carlson Companies was one of the largest privately held companies in the U.S.

The success of Carlson Companies is remarkable and Carlson is the ultimate goal-driven entrepreneur. A firm believer in free enterprise, Carlson built a profitable business while also giving back to his community.