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Carlson (often referred to by its previous name Carlson Companies) is a privately held international corporation in the hotel, marketing, restaurant, and travel industries. Headquartered in Minneapolismarker, Minnesotamarker, in the United Statesmarker, Carlson brands and services, including franchised operations, employ about 160,000 people in nearly 150 countries and territories. The company's 2007 sales, including those from franchised operations, totaled $39.8 billion. It is one of the largest family-held corporations in the country.


The Carlson's subsidiaries include:


Carlson was founded in 1938 as the Gold Bond Stamp Company by Curt Carlson, who used a $55 loan to start his venture. Founded during the Great Depression, Mr. Carlson used "Gold Bond Stamps", a consumer loyalty program based on trading stamps, to provided consumer incentive for grocery stores.

Revenue from this business was brisk until the late 1960s, at which time trading stamps began to lose popularity and the company was renamed "Carlson Companies" in 1973 as it diversified into various hospitality and travel industries. In 1962, Carlson purchased its first Radisson Hotel in Minneapolis. It then went on to purchase T.G.I. Friday's in 1975, Country Kitchen International in 1977, Comfort Suites, and started Country Inns & Suites By Carlson in 1987. Carlson's economy brand, Park Inn/Suites, was launched in 1986, and a new upscale brand, Park Plaza, in 1988. In a return to its roots, the Carlson Companies started an electronic consumer incentive program named in 1996. The program is not only used at Carlson properties such as T.G.I. Friday's restaurants and Radisson Hotels & Resorts, but also at major grocery, and department stores and major online retailers.

Curt Carlson died in 1999, and the position of CEO was soon taken up by his daughter, Marilyn Carlson Nelson. Carlson Nelson planned to retire at age 65 in 2005, but was unable due to issues with her planned successor, Curt Carlson's grandson Curtis Nelson, who was fired from the company in January 2007. A lawsuit was filed and subsequently dismissed over the firing.[93007]


In 2007, for the sixth time in the last seven years, Carlson was named one of the 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers by Working Mother magazine. For three consecutive years, 2006-2008, Carlson was named one of the “Best Places to Work for GLBT Equality”. In 2002, Carlson was on Fortune magazine's list of “The 100 Best Companies to Work For.” Carlson is an equal opportunity employer.


  1. The family business, Star Tribune, May 1, 2007.
  2. David Phelps and Rochelle Olson, From hospitality to hostility, Star Tribune, May 1, 2007.
  3. The Carlson Companies' saga, Star Tribune, May 1, 2007.
  4. The Carlson Companies' saga, Star Tribune, May 1, 2007.

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