Tharaldson's billion-dollar dream

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Asian-American hoteliers like to talk about achieving the American dream, and surely many of them have met or exceeded their wildest expectations of success. But the ability of hotel entrepreneurship to produce individual wealth is often overlooked or not discussed, particularly by those outside of the business.

If you doubt the power of hotel ownership, ask Gary Tharaldson, the ex-teacher and softball fanatic who started with very little and grew a hotel empire of more than 300 owned and/or managed properties. His hard work, shrewdness and creativity paid off handsomely this week as he consummated a deal to sell 130 hotels he and his family own to The Whitehall Street Real Estate Funds for—brace yourself—$1.2 billion. That's got to make Tharaldson one of the richest, if not the richest, individuals in his home state of North Dakota. What's more, Whitehall retained Tharaldson Property Management to continue operating the hotels.

Lodging is an amazing business in that anyone with a solid work ethic, a commitment to service and a little brains can rise from bellman to GM, from front desk agent to chain president and, in Tharaldson's case, from softball player to billionaire. What a country!

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