Curtis Leroy “Curt” Carlson (9 July 1914 – 19 February 1999) was the founder of what would become Carlson Companies Inc., which today is one of the largest family-held corporations in the US, and counts the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group and Carlson Wagonlit Travel amongst its subsidiaries.
Curtis was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His family were of Swedish and Danish origin, and not very well off. His father owned a neighbourhood grocery store and put in long hours, later encouraging young Curt to work there after school, helping him to understand the value of money and hard work. Curtis took on small jobs to pay his way through college, and joined Procter and Gamble after majoring in Economics in 1937.
It was in 1938 that Curtis saw an opportunity and founded the Gold Bond Stamp Company, the earliest trading stamp consumer loyalty program of its kind for grocery store customers. Initially proving successful with small grocery stores, then almost frozen out during the war period, it gathered momentum in the late 1940s and the 1950s, spreading to multiple states, retail sectors and most of the largest supermarket chains. By the 1960s, the program had reached saturation point and Curtis started to look at other business opportunities, commencing with the purchase of the Minneapolis Radisson Hotel, before going on to build the huge international chain that exists today. He also acquired TGI Fridays, Carlson Leisure Group and many other hospitality businesses.
Curtis Carlson was an ardent supporter of the Minnesota community he had grown up in, and provided generous financial gifts to the University he felt had prepared him for his future success. The School of Management was named after him in 1986.
Curtis was honoured by the British Travel & Hospitality Hall of Fame in 1996.