In stocks as in politics, it pays to study history, particularly when there's ample evidence that many of today's stock market stalwarts began as industry rule breakers. Accordingly, today we profile another of the most successful rebels in the history of business and the man we have to thank for Paris Hilton. I'm talking, of course, about her great-granddaddy Conrad, the legendary proprietor of the Hilton Hotels (NYSE:HLT) chain.

Hilton Hotels

Recent Price


Market Cap

$9.74 billion

52-Week High/Low

$18.78 / 29.22

Major Competitors

InterContinental Hotels
Marriott International
Starwood Hotels & Resorts (NYSE:HOT)

How it all began
In 1919, at the time Hilton Hotels was born, Conrad was a recent war veteran returning home from France. But his initial business interests had nothing to do with hospitality. Instead, reports author Howard Rothman in his book 50 Companies That Changed the World, he wished to be a banker.

It wasn't to be. Negotiations to buy a small outfit in Cisco, Texas, stalled, leaving Conrad free to pursue other opportunities. One came knocking almost immediately when he purchased a 50-room lodge called the Mobley. He'd add Hotel Melba in Fort Worth months later. By 1923, Conrad had built the beginnings of a budding empire, with 520 hotel rooms throughout the Lone Star State, Rothman writes.

The 1920s would continue to be good to Conrad, as he rose to become the region's largest hotel operator by the end of the decade. But the Great Depression took its toll on Hilton as it did on everything else. For Conrad, Rothman writes, that meant giving up some of his acquired properties, shutting down others, and eliminating some services. He even took a job at a rival chain to keep the lights on at his own.

A revolution begins
But Hilton survived. And after the Depression, it thrived. Conrad's rebellious thinking caused the resurgence. In 1938, he expanded Hilton beyond the Texas borders when he picked up the lease on the posh Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco. It would be the beginning of a coast-to-coast buying spree that led the Hilton chain to adopt the motto "Across the Nation." By 1942, it was.

Conrad introduced many more innovations in the years after he established the first national chain. For example, in 1959 he built the San Francisco Airport Hilton, the first hotel catering specifically to the flying public, Rothman writes.

Conrad ceded the CEO's chair to son Barron in 1966 to assume the role of chairman. But the innovations didn't stop. That same year, Hilton introduced franchising through its Hilton Inns subsidiary, transforming the upscale lodging industry. Today, Hilton is one of the world's largest hospitality networks.

That's hot
It sure is. And as is the mark of an innovator, Conrad spawned dozens of competitors, including InterContinental and Sheraton parent Starwood. But it's worth remembering that these outfits and others like them owe their success to Conrad's ideas -- including Wyndham (NYSE:WYN) and Choice Hotels (NYSE:CHH) in franchising and Four Seasons (NYSE:FS) in luxury lodging.

Tap into the greatest growth
Rule Breakers advisor and Fool co-founder David Gardner is constantly scouring the markets for the next Conrad Hilton. He believes that by doing so, he'll find the next Hilton Hotels: an ultimate growth stock capable of such powerful returns that it can deliver a lifetime of riches, as owning Hilton stock has done for Paris and her family.

So far, he and his team have found four multibagger stocks, including two that have more than tripled. Both firms share managers who, like Hilton, possess a passion for their businesses that should continue to lead to outsized returns. Want to find out who they are? Try Motley Fool Rule Breakers for 30 days. It's free, and there's no obligation to buy. Click here to get started now.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers only breaks the rules in his portfolio. Wimp. Tim owns shares of Wyndham. Get the skinny on all of Tim's stock holdings by checking his Fool profile. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy disclosure is louder than a rebel yell.