Born on August 26, 1922 in Chicago, Illinois, Jay Pritzker was an entrepreneur, co-founder of the Marmon Group, and co-founder of Hyatt Hotels. He is one of three sons of Abram Nicholas Pritzker, the patriarch of the Pritzker family, one of the wealthiest families in the United States.
Jay Pritzker showed his intelligence and ambition early on; he enrolled at the University of Chicago at the age of 14, and he graduated with both bachelor’s and law degrees from Northwestern University. Though law was the family business, Jay took a different approach and formed the Marmon Group in 1953 with his brother Robert. This became the holding company for the Pritzker family’s investments. Over the next decades, these holdings came to include various manufacturing and transportation companies.
When Jay was on a business trip to Los Angeles in 1957, he stopped at a busy cafe near the airport and remarked that businesspeople like himself, in town on short business trips, would probably prefer to stay in hotels near the airport rather than in the city center. He learned that the closest motel to the airport was sold out, and he made a deal with the property’s owner, Hyatt Von Dehn, to purchase it on the spot for $2.2 million. The motel was called Hyatt House.
Along with his brother Donald, Jay Pritzker started to build the Hyatt brand. Their second property, also a Hyatt House motel, was near San Francisco International Airport, then they expanded outside of California to airport and urban locations across the country. In 1967 the brothers opened the Regency Hyatt House in Atlanta, which was the first hotel to use an atrium design and was met with skepticism from visitors who mistakenly thought hot air would rise in the atrium space and create a rain shower inside. The atrium design became a signature feature of Hyatt Regency hotels. In 1969 the first international Hyatt opened, the Hong Kong Hyatt Hotel (known as the Hyatt Regency Hong Kong today).
Pritzker died on January 23, 1999, and at the time of his death, the fortune that he and his brother Robert had amassed was estimated to be around $13.5 billion. His legacy includes the annual Pritzker Architectural Prize, which awards $100,000 to exceptional architects, and the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago’s Millennium Park, which was completed in 2004.
Today Hyatt Hotels Corporation is a publicly traded company (NYSE: H) and manages over 900 hotels in over 65 countries. The company’s portfolio of brands includes not only Hyatt House and Hyatt Regency, but also Park Hyatt, the Unbound Collection, and Hyatt Centric. Jay Pritzker’s son, Thomas, is Hyatt’s current chairman.
Want to learn more about hotel industry leaders? Check out Titans of the Hotel Industry which includes an overview of leaders like Conrad Hilton (Hilton), J. Willard Marriott (Marriott), Barry Sternlicht (Starwood), Isadore Sharp (Four Seasons), Rich Barton and Brian Chesky (Airbnb)