1979 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"You succeed not by chance but choice."
Curtis Carlson's father immigrated to this country from Sweden at the age of three. He became a salesman who called on small neighborhood grocers. Eventually he bought a small grocery store of his own, where Curtis Carlson started working at the age of nine. His mother, who at one time worked as a maid for the local pastor, raised the family's five children and ran a small bakery.
In addition to operating several paper routes as a youngster, Carlson had a corner newsstand on a busy Minneapolis intersection, where he developed his flair for salesmanship. He earned a degree in economics from the University of Minnesota and took a sales job with Procter & Gamble (P&G).
After less than two years at P&G, Carlson left to pursue his idea of a trading stamp company. He invested his $55 rent money to launch the Gold Bond Stamp Company in 1938. When he was turned down for a $1,000 bank loan to pay for the printing costs of his new enterprise, Carlson went directly to the printer and persuaded him to give him $1,000 worth of printing based on future printing business. Within six months he had 40 grocery store accounts. Three years later, Gold Bond was in 400 stores in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa. By 1951, Gold Bond had expanded into 11 states.
When the trading stamp industry became saturated in 1962, Carlson diversified and bought his first hotel, the Radisson, in downtown Minneapolis. Ten years later, the enterprise was re-named Carlson Companies, Inc. Today, Carlson Companies is one of the largest privately held corporations in the country whose brands, in addition to Radisson, include Park Plaza Hotels, Country Inns & Suites, T.G.I. Friday's, Carlson Wagonlit Travel, and much more. Carlson Companies is a global leader in marketing, travel, and hospitality industries.
The original Gold Bond Stamp Company is now part of the Carlson Promotion Group, which specializes in sales promotion and marketing. Carlson once said of his achievements, "You succeed not by chance, but by choice. Don't be afraid to change your options when things change."
A dedicated philanthropist, the business school at Carlson's alma mater, the University of Minnesota, is named the Curtis L. Carlson School of Management in honor of his $30 million donation. Of his Horatio Alger Award, Carlson said, "I have accumulated a number of awards and honors, but I feel that this award stands alone at the top of the honors I have been privileged to receive."* Deceased