HNA's influence on Carlson Hotels is already taking hold. What will be even more interesting going forward is how HNA leverages its numerous hospitality investments, including Carlson, NH Hotels, Red Lion Hotels and soon, Hilton Worldwide and, possibly Rezidor.
It’s only been a few weeks since the China-based HNA Group closed on its acquisition of Carlson Hotels in December and already, major signs of change are appearing.
Chief among them is a change in leadership. Carlson Hotels CEO David Berg, who joined the hotel company in 2014 as COO and became CEO in May 2015, will be leaving, effective February 1. Federico González Tejera, who was most recently CEO of NH Hotel Group, will replace Berg.
When the the companies announced the HNA deal in April, news reports noted Berg would lead the organization under the new ownership. In Wednesday’s news release, Carlson cited no specific reason for Berg’s abrupt, and perhaps surprising, departure.
Carlson Hotels had no further comment regarding Berg’s replacement as CEO. Berg was originally scheduled to speak this week at The Americas Lodging Investment Summit in Los Angeles, but did not attend the conference, perhaps because of this impending announcement.
Since 2012, González Tejera had served as CEO of NH Hotel Group before being removed in June 2016. Angry shareholders, led by Oceanwood Capital, alleged that HNA Group’s then-pending purchase of Carlson Hotels, and likely Rezidor, would pose a major conflict of interest for Tejera and board members with ties to HNA Group, which owned about one-third of NH Hotel Group.
Carlson had a 51.3 percent ownership stake in Rezidor and HNA Group is in the process of seeking Rezidor board and shareholder approval to acquire the remaining shares.
HNA’s news release Wednesday regarding González Tejera’s appointment noted his role in “develop[ing] and execut[ing] a Five-Year-Plan that helped significantly transform the company’s brand position and renovation strategy and increase profitability.”
Perhaps not coincidentally, on the same day that the appointment of González Tejera as the new Carlson CEO, NH Hotel Group’s board of directors nominated a new CEO too: Ramon Aragones Marin, NH Hotel Group’s former executive managing director of business and operations.
Former NH Hotel Group co-chairman and chairman of the board, Charles Bromwell Mobus Jr., has also been appointed as the new director of the Carlson Hotels board.
In a statement, Mobus said, “David Berg led Carlson Hotels through a successful period of global portfolio growth while at the same time increasing profitability, improving competitiveness, and delivering substantial gains in guest satisfaction. Our confidence in the future potential of Carlson Hotels is due in no small part to his efforts. Federico has an established track record and long-held experience in the hospitality industry, and we are confident in his ability to build upon this strong foundation.”
In the same news release, González Tejera said, “Carlson Hotels is a respected leader in the global hospitality industry and has a portfolio of world-class brands. I am excited to have the opportunity to lead this great business and continue to drive global growth. I look forward to working with David to ensure a smooth transition, and to joining the talented team he has cultivated over the past three years.”
If HNA’s name sounds familiar, it’s because the company is an investor in a multitude of global hospitality companies. In addition to being a major shareholder in NH Hotel Group and the owner of Carlson Hotels, it also has investments in Red Lion Hotels Corp. and soon it will be a 25-percent stakeholder in Hilton Worldwide.
The company provided no additional details on whether the leadership change will also mean a change in the headquarters location for Carlson Hotels. When HNA first announced the purchase, it noted Carlson Hotels would remain headquartered in Minnetonka, Minnesota.
Photo credit: Federico Gonzalez Tejera, former CEO of NH Hotel Group, is replacing David Berg as CEO of Carlson Hotels. Carlson Rezidor / HNA Group