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Hilton Dealmaker Gets Key to Corner Suite

The international hotel chain names Matthew Hart as its CEO. The former CFO was key to acquisition deals that expanded the company's reach.
Marie LeoneMay 25, 2007

Matthew Hart, who as finance chief of Hilton Hotels played a key role in company’s acquisition of Bally’s Grand and Promus Hotel Co., has been named president and chief executive officer of the Beverly Hills–based chain, effective January 2008. Most recently Hart was president and chief operating officer of Hilton.

Hart, 54, who was also elected to the company’s board in January, will replace current CEO Stephen Bollenbach, who will become the nonexecutive chairman of financially troubled homebuilder KB Homes. Hilton officials noted that Bollenbach will continue to serve as co-chairman of the Hilton board through 2010.

Hart will be the fourth chief executive officer in the hotel chain’s nearly 90-year history, following company founder Conrad N. Hilton, Barron Hilton, and Bollenbach. Hart joined Hilton, which currently generates $8.6 billion in revenues annually, in 1996 as chief financial officer. He was instrumental in completing several strategic mergers — including the $44 million Bally’s Entertainment deal in 1998 and the $4 billion Promus Hotel transaction, completed in 1999 — that pushed Hilton ahead of its main competitors (Marriott and Starwood) in terms of property holdings.

Much of the credit for the transaction’s success goes to Hart, Bollenbach told CFO magazine in 2001. At the time, Bollenbach, a legendary dealmaker in his own right, described Hart as “the most accomplished finance person in the hotel business.” Without Hart, “there wouldn’t have been a deal,” he said, adding that Hart’s most important contribution was “forging the integration of two companies that had a lot of differences in the way they operated and in their business objectives. It wasn’t easy, but Matt made it easy.”

Hart continued to seek out deals after being named COO in 2004, overseeing the $5.7 billion purchase of London-based Hilton International, after which he launched the company’s luxury brand, the Waldorf-Astoria Collection.

In 2006 Hart’s total compensation was $4.4 million, which included a salary of $850,000.

Prior to joining Hilton, Hart was senior vice president and treasurer at The Walt Disney Co., where Bollenbach was CFO. Hart also served as executive vice president and CFO at Host Marriott, and was a lending officer at Bankers Trust. He also serves as a director on the boards of US Airways Group, Kilroy Realty, and the nonprofit Heal the Bay.

In a 2003 interview with CFO magazine, the hotel-industry veteran revealed his proclivity for diplomacy: “My own belief is that talking down a competitor is actually counterproductive,” he said. Why? “In my industry, we all trade generally in a band,” explained Hart. “That band is a multiple of earnings or a multiple of cash flow, or some other multiple. With our two biggest competitors — Marriott and Starwood — to the extent their share price declines, mine probably will, too, because investors can lose confidence in the [industry] outlook.”