• Private giants look to change

Two privately held US hospitality giants, Hyatt and Carlson, are venturing into the New Year promising radical change.

Hyatt is tipped to be sold, possibly via a flotation although many think a private deal is now most likely, and Carlson has announced that from March it will be led for the first time in its history by a non-family member.

The late December sale of industrial conglomerate Marmon Holdings to Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathway is thought to point the way forward for Hyatt which, like Marmon, is owned by the Pritzker family.

The $4.5bn Marmon deal which gives Buffett a 60% stake was struck privately and announced on Christmas day. The transaction was reportedly agreed in just 10 days.

Last August, a $1bn stake in Hyatt was sold to Madrone Capital, the private equity fund controlled by the Walton family, heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune, and Goldman Sachs.

Both Madrone and Goldman Sachs now have seats on the Hyatt board after sinking $500m each into the company. Although specific details about the structure of the deal were not disclosed (including what size stake the investment delivered), Tom Pritzker, chairman of Global Hyatt, said in a statement at the time: "The addition of these sophisticated investors with long-term horizons will allow us to further our restructuring efforts without affecting Global Hyatt's financial capacity to grow and execute on our business plan".

Pritzker added that while Hyatt was continuing to make itself "public ready" through changes in its structure and reporting measures, there were "no specific plans to access the public markets at this time".

Noises coming out of Chicago since then have echoed these feelings with Mark Hoplamazian, Hyatt CEO, telling the Financial Times in November that plans for a float were making progress but no timetable had yet been set.

What does seem to be on the immediate agenda, however, is the unloading of a significant chunk of hotel property in what Hoplamazian describes as a "more aggressive capital strategy".

In particular, Hyatt has recognised the need to deploy some capital to improve its sluggish growth rate.

The sale of the Park Hyatt Sydney, announced this week, for Aus$202m ($174m), will give Hyatt hope that there is still appetite for the hotels it owns. The Sydney property was owned by Australian fund manager MFS and has been bought by an unnamed Japanese company.

The price of the hotel is a record for the country. MFS has managed the property investment on behalf of 2,400 individuals via its PH Sydney Hotel Trust since September 2005.

Over at Carlson, the 48-year old Hubert Joly is to become its new president and CEO on March 1. He is currently the Paris-based CEO of Carlson Wagonlit Travel, the Carlson-owned travel agency.

Joly, born and raised in France, is only the fourth CEO in Carlson's 70-year history. He succeeds Marylin Carlson Nelson who will continue as chairman of the board. Joly joined CWT in 2004 from media company Vivendi Universal.

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