Grandson of hotel magnate and philanthropist Conrad N. Hilton, Steven M. Hilton was named chairman and chief executive of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation in August. Established in 1944 and based in Century City, the foundation didn't really take off until Conrad Hilton died in 1979. It now has over $800 million in assets and is on track to make $45 million in grants over the next year in various program areas, such as assisting children with multiple handicaps, eradicating homelessness among the mentally ill and improving international water development. The foundation also administers the $1.5 million Hilton Humanitarian Prize, which is awarded each year to an organization that is significantly alleviating human suffering. Like other members of his family, Hilton took a turn working at the hotel company but decided over 20 years ago that he would rather spend his time overseeing grants in the no-nprofit sector.

Question: Did you ever work at a Hilton?
I worked at Hilton Hotels in a variety of positions for about five years in Alabama, Georgia and California. My most recent job with Hilton Hotels was in 1983 as assistant to the general manager at the Mobile Hilton in Alabama.

Q: What was that like?
Growing up I felt people tended to project their own images of who I was. For example, while working within Hilton Hotels I occasionally came across fellow employees who probably looked at me as a spoiled rich brat who was handed the job on his way up the corporate ladder. When other employees saw that I actually did not receive any special treatment and took my job seriously by working hard, in most cases they would come around and accept me as part of the team.

Q: What made you want you to go into philanthropy?
While growing up, I didn't think much about the Hilton family foundation as a possible career, mostly because the foundation was relatively small until after Conrad Hilton's death in 1979. But when my grandfather passed away, he left almost his entire estate to the foundation.

Q: So is that when you joined?
Before I starting work at the Hilton Foundation in 1983, I worked on an oyster farm in Hawaii for about a year, since I was interested in aquaculture, or fish farming. Unfortunately, the oyster farm went bankrupt and closed operations.

Q: What does the foundation do?
We take what we call a major project approach. The typical foundation tends to give a smaller amount to many different organizations, typically for one or two years. We fund much larger projects over a longer period of time, say eight to 10 years, with the understanding that if they are successful, our funding may continue.

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