Carlson Marketing Sold

Carlson Marketing, an incentive industry pioneer and one of the largest firms in the business, announced yesterday morning that it was being purchased by Montreal-based loyalty management firm Groupe Aeroplan for $175 million.

Carson Marketing is currently owned by Minneapolis-based Carlson Companies, owners of Carlson Wagonlit Travel, casual dining chains TGI Friday's and Pick Up Stix, and Carlson Hotels Worldwide, which includes Regent Hotels & Resorts, Radisson Hotels & Resorts, Park Plaza Hotels & Resorts, Country Inns & Suites By Carlson, and Park Inn. The sale is planned to close in early December.

Hubert Joly, president and CEO of Carlson, said in a statement that the sale "frees up resources for Carlson that the company can deploy to accelerate the growth of its hotel, restaurant, and travel businesses at a time when significant opportunities exist in these markets."

Speaking at a conference call for analysts yesterday, Rupert Duchesne, president and CEO of Groupe Aeroplan, said, "The acquisition of Carlson Marketing represents a golden opportunity for Groupe Aeroplan, together we become the world's leading loyalty management provider, bringing even more value to our respective clients through a vastly expanded network of loyalty marketing capabilities, reward fulfillment and recognition services, more sector specific loyalty marketing expertise, and decision science and data analytics for loyalty programs."

Jeff Balagana, president and CEO of Carlson Marketing, added: "This is big day for Carlson Marketing. Loyalty is our specialty and we are very pleased we going to be part of Groupe Aeroplan, the global leader in loyalty management."

He added that in preliminary meetings between the two firms leadership teams, "it is clearly a good cultural fit. We share the same focus, priorities and long term vision. It is very exciting for us to be part of an organization that is 100 percent focused on loyalty and is committed to building a global loyalty business over the long term."

The merger, Balagna added, "will provide a solid and strategic platform to grow and expand all of the businesses, with a significantly longer list of clients, new geographies, products and services."

Around the same time, Carlson Companies chairman Marilyn Carlson Nelson was addressing the staff of Carlson Marketing in Minneapolis, the firm that her father, Curtis Carlson, built from a $55 investment, and that she in turn grew into a global, multi-billion dollar enterprise. Balagna noted that the sale made this a "very emotional day for us. We enjoyed being a part of a family owned business in the Carlson enterprise for many, many years."

Source: Incentive Magazine