Since then Laugharn has embraced the philanthropic work begun in 1944 by the Hilton family, and his goal is to expand the reach of the foundation, which is dedicated to improving the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable people across the globe.
Before joining the foundation last year, Laugharn spent six years as executive director of the Bay Area-based Fireflight Foundation.
“The way (Conrad Hilton) looked at the world put spring in your step,” Laugharn said. “(The way he conducted business was) a good way to run an organization and a good way to do good in the world.”
Hilton was an ambitious entrepreneur who negotiated one of the biggest real estate deals of the 1950s when he bought the Statler hotel chain in 1954 for a then record-breaking sum of $111 million.
The wheeling and dealing aside, Laugharn said Hilton felt it was his heartfelt duty to help the less fortunate.
“Conrad and his son, Barron, were always an inspiration,” Laugharn said.
Laugharn said Steve Hilton pushed the family to become strong environmental advocates.
The grandson was instrumental in the design of the foundation’s state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly headquarters on Agoura Road.
Laugharn said a big focus of the foundation is supporting Catholic sisters in Africa and around the world as they educate children, care for the vulnerable, promote peace and advocate for justice.
The foundation’s many philanthropic efforts include developing safe-water programs in Africa; assisting young children who suffer from HIV and AIDS; combating homelessness; and working to protect foster youth.
“The great thing about my position is that we don’t have to choose between continuity and growth,” Laugharn said. “Hilton’s son, Barron, pledged 97 percent of his own personal fortune to the foundation.”
For now that means an infusion of $2.6 billion to expand charitable programs, and in the future the sum will grow to $5.5 billion, he said.
Steve Hilton was a proponent of helping people help themselves through “capacity building,” Laugharn said, and the foundation will continue to help make that happen. As an example, he pointed out that Catholic sisters in Africa have learned how to write grants to help local communities.
Closer to home, Laugharn said the foundation is working to end chronic homelessness in Los Angeles. The problem, he said, is often rooted in substance abuse or mental illness.
The foundation is working to provide permanent, supportive housing for the region’s homeless that would include addiction treatment, development of job skills and other programs.
He said the foundation supported the passage of Measure H, a $1.2-billion bond measure that will fund 10,000 supportive housing units in L.A.
“It will be a major achievement,” Laugharn said when the units are built.
Laugharn is sanguine about his role as president and CEO of such a well-funded organization. He said his biggest challenge is, simply, to “do good.”
“There is a lot of need in the world,” he said.