Childhood & Early Life
Barron Hilton was born in Dallas, Texas, on October 23, 1927, to Mary Adelaide and Conrad Nicholson Hilton. Conrad established the company in 1919, at a small inn in Texas, and by the time Barron was born, the company had already started doing well. Barron grew up with three siblings.
Barron was not the studious type. As a kid, he was mostly interested in flying planes. At the age of seven, he rode his bike to open spaces and watched planes fly for several hours. Soon, he had made up his mind about flying planes someday.
He found another passion in photography, during his stint at the Second World War. After high school, he started taking classes in flying planes and became a trained pilot soon after. Subsequently, he got enrolled at the ‘University of Southern California Aeronautical School.’ He earned his respectable twin-engine rating two years later.
Although he could have immediately joined his father’s booming hotel business, he decided to experiment with a few small entrepreneurial ventures of his own in order to hone his entrepreneurial skills. Thus, he co-founded the ‘McDonald Oil Company’ and also founded ‘Air Finance Corporation.’
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In 1954, he joined ‘Hilton’ as the vice president and was deemed responsible for running the company’s franchise operations. Conrad also laid the foundation of ‘Carte Blanche’ credit card services and made Barron the director of the entire operation.
Barron had bigger plans for the company. In 1959, the newly founded AFL’s Los Angeles team went up for sale, and Barron bought it immediately. He named the team ‘Los Angeles Chargers.’ He also happened to be one of the co-founders of the league.
In 1965, Barron took over as the president of the AFL and presented the possibility of a merger between the AFL and the ‘National Football League’ (NFL), which was later successful, and thus laid the foundation for the ‘Super Bowl.’ During Barron’s ownership of the ‘Los Angeles Chargers’ for six years, his team won one AFL championship and five divisional titles.
In 1966, he was asked by his father to take over the leadership of ‘Hilton Hotels Corporation’ and to put his football dreams aside. Barron sold his shares in the team, which he had bought for a mere 25 thousand dollars, for a whopping 10 million dollars.
Upon becoming the president of the company, he showed his impeccable business sense in cost-control measures and in forming deals in the real-estate arena. In 1970, he managed to convince the board to invest in the booming gambling business in Las Vegas, where gambling had been legal since 1931. He decided to open two casinos in Las Vegas, namely, the ‘Flamingo Hilton’ and the ‘Las Vegas Hilton.’
Hilton also showed immense intelligence and introduced two new features in his casinos. He installed video cameras throughout his casinos, in order to keep an eye on cheaters. He also introduced the ‘Pot o’ Gold’ slot machines. This helped the company gain mass popularity all over the world.
In 1975, Barron initiated a highly profitable, yet risky deal by selling 50 percent interest in six of ‘Hilton’s’ largest hotels to the ‘Prudential Insurance Company.’ He finalized the deal in 83 million dollars and took a leaseback to manage the property.
Throughout the 70s, Barron kept expanding his franchise domestically and bought a lot of property in the emerging markets. He prepared well for competition and kept rehabbing his hotels. All the while, he maintained a steady income flow from his casino business in Las Vegas.
By the arrival of the 90s, the total number of rooms ‘Hilton’ had in Los Angeles grew from 2277 to 6703. As he had seen the business struggle very hard under his father’s presidency, during the Great Depression, Barron prepared well for the risky seasons and planned accordingly to curb losses.
At the turn of the century, Barron held on to his leadership as the chairman of the board. However, by that time, he had chosen a successor in Steve Bollenbach, who further expanded the company with some seemingly impossible mergers. By the 2000s, ‘Hilton’ had already acquired ‘Embassy Suites,’ ‘Hampton Inn,’ ‘Double Tree,’ and ‘Homewood Suites’ among many other real-estate companies.
In 2005, he made some major business deals. First, he acquired ‘Hilton International,’ which was sold about 38 years back. Second, he merged his ever-booming gaming business with ‘Harrah’s’, making it ‘Caesars Entertainment.’
All the while, ‘Hilton Hotels Corporation’ made a substantial growth all over the world with its hotel chains in more than 70 countries. ‘The Blackstone Group,’ which happens to be the largest alternative investment firm in the world, bought ‘Hilton Hotels Corporation’ in 2007 for a whopping 26 billion dollars. The new company was renamed as ‘Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc.’
Other Ventures & Charity
Conrad Hilton started the ‘Conrad N. Hilton Foundation’ in 1944 to support various causes. He garnered a contribution of gifts worth 7.6 million dollars before his death.
Upon his father’s death, Barron appointed Donald H. Hubbs to look after the foundation. He was one of the closest advisors of both Conrad and Barron. The foundation works for various causes, such as helping nuns, educating disabled children, and preventing drug abuse.
Owing to his keen interest in the aviation industry and his support toward the same, he has been awarded with many honors, such as the ‘FAI Gold Air Medal’ from the ‘Federation Aeronautique Internationale’ in 2009. In 2012, he was introduced into the ‘International Air & Space Hall of Fame.’