Hotel industry icon Barron Hilton dies at 91

Barron Hilton
Barron Hilton died at his Los Angeles home of natural causes. Photo credit: Conrad N. Hilton Foundation

Lodging industry icon Barron Hilton, son of Hilton Hotels founder Conrad Hilton and former president/CEO of Hilton Hotels Corp., died Sept. 19 in his Los Angeles home. He was 91.

“Today the world of hospitality mourns for one of the greats,” said Christopher Nassetta, president/CEO of Hilton. “Barron Hilton was an incredible family man, business leader and philanthropist. From his leadership of our company for more than three decades, to the transformative work he led with the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation for many years, Barron was a man unlike any other. I always found inspiration in how he saw the tremendous potential of hospitality to change the world for the better—and in the unique and meaningful ways he sought to make that happen. On behalf of everyone at Hilton, I extend our deepest condolences to the Hilton family.”

William Barron Hilton, commonly referred to by his middle name, was born in Dallas on Oct. 23, 1927. Hilton began serving in the Navy at the age of 17 and started his career as an entrepreneur at 19. In 1954, he joined his father at Hilton Hotels Corp. as vice president. Twelve years later, he succeeded Conrad Hilton as president/CEO of the company, where he stayed until retiring in 1996, then moved to the role of co-chairman of the board.

Barron Hilton 
Photo credit: Conrad N. Hilton Foundation

In addition to overseeing the hotel empire his father started, Hilton helped grow Conrad Hilton’s original $160 million stock gift to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation to more than $2.9 billion. In 2007, Hilton committed 97 percent of his wealth to the Hilton Foundation, an amount projected to increase the group’s endowment to $6.3 billion.

“The Hilton family mourns the loss of a remarkable man,” said Steven Hilton, Barron Hilton’s son and chairman of the board at the Hilton Foundation. “My father was a loving husband to our mother, Marilyn, a wonderful role model to his eight children, a loyal and generous friend, visionary businessman, respected leader and a passionate sportsman. He lived a life of great adventure and exceptional accomplishment.”

Several industry leaders commented to Hotel Management on Barron Hilton's passing.

“Barron Hilton played a major role in shaping our industry, and our deepest sympathies go out to his children and grandchildren as well as Hilton’s associates," said Patrick (Pat) Pacious, president/CEO of Choice Hotels International. "His passing is a major loss to all of us in hospitality.”

"On behalf of IHG and our thousands of colleagues around the world, I wish to express our heartfelt condolences to the Hilton family," said IHG CEO Keith Barr. "Barron Hilton was a true pioneer who helped shape the hospitality industry we know today and his legacy will continue to have a positive impact for many years to come.”

“Barron Hilton was an innovator and a trailblazer in our industry," said Andrew Alexander, president of Red Roof Inn. "Through his vision, the Hilton empire was vastly expanded and has served travelers well for many, many years. We are saddened by his loss. The industry will miss him.”

“Barron Hilton’s vision empowered Hilton to be the global powerhouse it is today, and his legacy will live on for many generations to come,” said David Kong, president/CEO of Best Western Hotels & Resorts.

"Our thoughts, prayers and hearts go out to the Hilton family," said Geoff Ballotti, president and CEO of Wyndham Hotels & Resorts. "Barron Hilton is one of our industry’s great leaders who continues to inspire us all as hoteliers. We remember all he has done for our industry with immense respect and gratitude."

Barron Hilton was preceded in death by his father, Conrad Hilton, who died in 1979, also at 91; his brother and former Hilton executive Eric Hilton, who died in 2016 at 83; and his wife, Marilyn Hawley Hilton, who died in 2004 at 76. He is survived by eight children, 15 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Today, Hilton comprises nearly 5,900 hotels with more than 939,000 rooms in 114 countries and territories.