Hilton Hotels Corp. said Thursday that its chief operating officer, Matthew J. Hart, would take over the company reins when Chief Executive Stephen Bollenbach retires at the end of the year.
Hart, 54, will also continue as president of Beverly Hills-based Hilton, the country's second-largest hotel company.
Hart said he would focus on continuing to expand the brand internationally, building on last year's $5.7-billion acquisition of Hilton International, which included Conrad Hotels.
The acquisition made Hilton the world's fifth-largest hotel operator, with brands that include Embassy Suites, Doubletree, Hampton Inn, Homewood Suites and the Waldorf-Astoria Collection.
"The biggest opportunity I've seen in the 25 years I've been in the lodging business is the opportunity that we have to export our limited service, our select service and now our luxury brand all around the world," Hart said.
When Bollenbach announced his retirement in January, A.G. Edwards & Sons analyst Jeffrey Randall published a note in which he called Hart the obvious and "more-than-capable" successor.
"In his current position as president and chief operating officer, Mr. Hart has been on the front lines for the company, shouldering many CEO responsibilities in terms of communication strategy, allaying investor concerns and managing Hilton's recent fallout and subsequent compromise with various labor unions nationwide," Randall wrote.
At the time, Randall said he expected the transition to be seamless. On Thursday, Randall said his opinion was unchanged.
In the midst of a nationwide threat of labor strikes last summer, Hart helped negotiate a landmark agreement with Unite Here dubbed "Partnership for Future Growth."
In a major concession to the union, Hilton accepted a card-check system that lets workers join unions by signing cards instead of holding an election.
Hart, an 11-year Hilton veteran, was elected to the board in January. He will be the fourth CEO in the company's 90-year history. Before joining Hilton in 1996, he was senior vice president and treasurer at Walt Disney Co.