Front Desk

Carlson's succession drama, part 2

The other shoe dropped yesterday in Carlson's mini-drama over its plans to replace Marilyn Carlson Nelson at the top of the family-owned, multi-billion-dollar travel and marketing company. Last week, the company tapped Carlson Wagonlit Travel executive Hubert Joly to become president and CEO, with Marilyn Nelson moving into the chairmanship slot. The appointment of Joly marks the first time a non-family member will guide the 70-year-old company.

Yesterday, however, the real successor to Nelson may have entered center stage. Paul Kirwin, a longtime golden boy within the Carlson Hotels subsidiary, was named president of the Americas division of the lodging company. His 20-year career with the company includes the presidencies of both Country Inn & Suites and most recently, Carlson's Asia-Pacific division. He replaces Yvonne LaPenotiere, who was named to the vague-sounding title of Chief Branding Officer.

Joly obviously has a tough task ahead in running a company that's owned by an activist chairman who, while giving him full rein to manage, will still have a large voice in the operation of the enterprise, particularly its long-term strategy.

I don't wish it on him, but if Joly stumbles at all in the position I wouldn't be surprised if Kirwin gets on the fast track to the CEO's office. Remember, you heard it here first.

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