John M. Kidd, Carlson Hotels

Having the top spot at a hotel chain undergoing change, particularly one that’s a decades-old, formerly privately held family firm whose founding patriarch’s name still defines the company’s identity, is likely not the easiest place to be. But that’s just where John M. Kidd finds himself some seven months after being named CEO/COO of Carlson Hotels.

The Minnetonka, MN-based company, parent to such well-known brands as Radisson, Radisson Red, Radisson Blu, Country Inns & Suites, Park Inn by Radisson, Park Plaza and Quorvus Collection, was acquired last year by China-based HNA Hospitality Group, where Kidd served as president/COO.

“With any merger or acquisition, there will be a transition phase that is fraught with change. One would expect and anticipate that the change is for the good of the organization, and that is proving to be the case for Carlson Hotels,” said the CEO. “HNA truly recognized we were a world-class organization with an entrepreneurial spirit from our deep roots as a family-owned hospitality company. This prestigious platform the company was built on had tremendous value in the marketplace. Now what we are doing is taking that value to the next level. That has required us to look diagnostically at all aspects of the business and compare ourselves with our main competitors we see in the industry.”

Kidd is the third executive to occupy the C-suite since Carlson Hotels was acquired. Initially, incumbent CEO David Berg was slated to remain in place; however, he was replaced this past January by Federico González Tejera. Tejera resigned a few months later to become president/CEO of Rezidor Hotel Group, the Brussels-based master franchisor of Carlson Hotels outside of the United States.

Kidd indicated the overall plan for the chain is to become a high-profile player.

“Our vision is to become one of the top-three hotel companies in the world and the hotel company of choice for guests, owners and talent,” he said. “To accomplish this, we have developed a holistic five-year plan, which we call Destination 2022. This plan covers operations and asset management, brands and products, commercial and IT areas, talent and culture. I am confident this plan will propel [our]success.”

After 20 years with Hilton, Kidd spent five years with HNA in Beijing with several “terrific assignments,” most recently spending 10 months in French Polynesia where he put together a common platform for HNA’s hotels, airlines and travel agencies, before being tapped for the CEO post.

“The candid truth is when I assumed this new role, the company was not performing as well as it could be. The way we ran our business was inconsistent with how the world’s greatest hotel companies operate,” Kidd acknowledged. “We are now building something new and are guided by our strategic five-year plan… We are going to put our hotels first, simplify how we work and be better financial stewards… We are building a new hotel business, organized and operated in the manner of the very best global hotel companies. This is a fresh start on our operating model—how we think, plan and work.”

On his watch, plans are to be “very aggressive” in going after large U.S. markets (Top 15) for its Radisson Blu and Radisson Red brands and to swiftly tighten up the consistency and quality of the core Radisson brand. “We also consider Park Inn by Radisson a ‘hidden gem’ for our portfolio in the Americas,” said Kidd. “This brand presents an opportunity for significant growth like our European prototype that has been so successful.”

Also on tap is accelerating the transformation of Country Inns & Suites to a Gen 4 product, which has proven successful, based on owner validation and increases in ADR and NPS, according to the company. “We strongly believe our Country Inns & Suites portfolio can be three to four times larger than it is today,” said the CEO.

Purely organic growth and an asset-light strategy in the Americas with select managed contracts (when it make sense) will be the order of the new day. An aggressive development approach also is on the agenda.

On his personal agenda, Kidd enjoys sharing quality time at home on the weekends with his wife, entertaining family and friends. “I have particularly enjoyed American football since I was in high school in California, as well as watching the mighty All Blacks rugby team of my home country, New Zealand. I also enjoy researching assorted topics—usually related to business—and in between, trying to fit in a session or two in the gym, although the latter activity is sadly sometimes difficult to maintain consistently,” said Kidd.

As its new leader, the CEO said he understands the reason Carlson Hotels is a great company is due to its legacy of outstanding family entrepreneurship.

“So it’s now important I reassure the whole team that the change experienced during this transition period is essential for us to achieve our long-term goals, and furthermore, the new knowledge and skills—and fun—we will acquire along the way will be worth attaining,” he said. HB

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