Hilton CEO to net big payout

The Baltimore Sun

Stephen F. Bollenbach, chief executive officer of Hilton Hotels Corp., made sure his latest deal was his biggest.

The 64-year-old Bollenbach agreed Tuesday to sell the company he's run since 1996 to Blackstone Group LP for $20 billion, a record in the hotel industry. When it's completed, he plans to step down as CEO of the second-biggest U.S. hotel chain.

During his career, which included leading Marriott Corp. and overseeing Walt Disney Co.'s finances, the Los Angeles native has undertaken more than $52 billion in transactions, $32 billion at Hilton. In the process, he has made his shareholders wealthier.

"He's the consummate deal-maker," said Robert A. LaFleur, an analyst at Susquehanna Financial in Stamford, Conn. "All you have to do is look at the track record."

In 2005, Bollenbach arranged the reunion of Hilton and its overseas hotels after three decades apart by buying the lodging unit of Britain's Hilton Group PLC for $5.71 billion. Hilton Hotels spun off Hilton International in 1964.

Bollenbach, who was paid $12.2 million in 2006, gained notice in the early 1990s when he engineered the separation of Marriott into hotel-management and real-estate companies. In the process, he enriched shareholders, including members of the Marriott family.

At Disney, where he was finance chief for less than a year, he helped arrange the purchase of Capital Cities/ABC Inc. for $19.5 billion. Barron Hilton, son of founder Conrad Hilton, brought him in to take the reins of the hotel chain.

Blackstone's $47.50-a-share offer is 32 percent more than Hilton's closing price before the announcement and almost quadruple what Hilton was worth when Bollenbach took over.

Hilton shares soared $9.34, or nearly 26 percent, to close at $45.39 yesterday, the first day of trading since the deal was announced.

The agreement gives Barron Hilton, co-chairman of the company, $990 million for his 20.8 million shares. Bollenbach, who will continue as co- chairman of Hilton until 2010, will reap about $200 million, The Times of London reported yesterday on its Web site.

"This is an opportunity to capture the value created in the company," Bollenbach said when the deal was announced earlier this week. "It's a very compelling price."

Bollenbach's first job out of business school at California State University, Northridge, in 1968 was working for billionaire shipping magnate Daniel Ludwig in industries ranging from real estate to banking. His first assignment was to value the house of Clark Gable's widow, Kay.

Bollenbach joined Marriott in 1982 as treasurer and left to become chief financial officer of Holiday Corp., operator of the Holiday Inn chain, from 1986 to 1990. At Holiday, he helped keep investor Donald J. Trump from taking over the company by borrowing $2.8 billion to finance a partial leveraged buyout.

He worked for Trump as chief financial officer in 1990, helping the real estate and casino developer reduce his personal liability for about $1 billion in debt.

When Bollenbach returned to Marriott in 1992, he split the company into Marriott International Inc., a hotel-management company, and Host Marriott Corp., a debt-laden real-estate firm. The move, while making Marriott family members wealthier, earned him the ire of some bondholders and investors holding preferred stock.

Bollenbach was finance chief at Disney under Michael D. Eisner and during Hollywood agent Michael Ovitz's tenure as president.

He joined Hilton in February 1996 as CEO and, within a year, launched a hostile bid for ITT Corp., which eventually sold itself to Starwood Hotels & Resorts for $14.6 billion. In 1999, he bought Promus Hotel Corp.'s Hampton Inn, Homewood Suites and Embassy Suites chains in 1999 for $3.7 billion.

"The hotel business has got to be attractive to people," Bollenbach said in a Dec. 13 interview.

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