Ex-USF&G boss to head Promus, the hotel giant Blake, a specialist in turnarounds, to lead firm with 1,100 hotels

Executive suite

December 04, 1998|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,SUN STAFF

Turnaround specialist Norman P. Blake Jr., the former chairman and chief executive officer of USF&G, was named chairman, president and chief executive officer of the giant Promus Hotel Corp. yesterday.

Under franchises such as Embassy Suites, Doubletree Guest Suites, and Hampton Inns, Promus owns or operates more than 1,100 hotels in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Latin America. It reported a $95 million profit on more than $1 billion in revenue last year.

Blake, 57, succeeds Raymond E. Schultz, Promus' chairman and chief executive officer, and Richard M. Kelleher, president and chief operating officer. Both executives announced in August that they wanted to resign their posts.

Promus said Schultz would retire, and Kelleher planned to pursue other business opportunities.

"One of the great things for me is this is not a turnaround situation," said Blake yesterday during a phone interview from his office at Promus headquarters in Memphis, Tenn.

"This is a company with a strong balance sheet, a great management team and brand strength in some significant markets. It's upward and onward. It should be fun. I'm really excited about the company."

Dale Frey, chairman of the Promus board of directors' search committee, said Blake was chosen because he has "a reputation for outstanding leadership skills and a strong strategic vision."

"Based upon his record of success in a wide variety of situations and industries, we believe he is the perfect individual to capitalize on Promus' many strengths and move the company to the next stage of profitable growth," Frey said.

Blake said he looked forward to the opportunity to build on the company's strengths and had set an agenda of priorities that includes building a top-drawer management team, enhancing value to customers, hotel owners and shareholders, and seeking growth by leveraging the brand recognition of the company's hotels to capitalize on market opportunities.

Blake said he sees his biggest challenge as harmoniously merging the Doubletree and Promus organizational cultures.

Doubletree is known for its Four Star full-service hotels, while Promus has built a reputation as a scrappy fast-growing hotel company catering to travelers.

"There are skills on both side that must be integrated together. I hope to harness their best capabilities. The strength I bring is leadership, and the ability to articulate a successful strategy for the company," said Blake.

Michael D. Rose, a former chairman of Promus who is also resigning from the Promus board, said he thought Blake had the right skills to ensure company growth after its December 1997 merger with Doubletree.

"Norm Blake has a track record as a strong leader," said Rose. "His focused, straightforward style and communication skills will serve him well with both licensees and management of Promus."

If Blake's track record is any indication of what's ahead for Promus, employees should brace themselves for fast-paced change.

He is known for moving quickly on decisions. After joining USF&G in 1990, Blake embarked on an aggressive restructuring campaign, cutting costs and dumping under-performing assets.

He slashed 30 percent of the work force, trimmed executive perks, axed hundreds of independent agents, and sold off much of the financial institution's junk-bond and real estate portfolios. He even dumped the corporate jet.

His tenure came to an end earlier this year when USF&G merged with the St. Paul Companies in a transaction valued at $3.5 billion.

Prior to joining USF&G he was credited with improving the performance of Heller International Corp. of Chicago, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fuji Bank Ltd. of Japan, a commercial and industrial financial institution.

Prior to joining Heller in 1984, the Perdue University alumnus was executive vice president for financing operations at General Electric Credit Corp.

Pub Date: 12/04/98

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