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Marilyn Carlson Nelson

Former President & CEO of Carlson Companies

Marilyn Carlson Nelson Marilyn Carlson Nelson first took over her family's business—Carlson Companies, one of the largest privately held hospitality companies in the world—in 1998. She inherited the business from her father Curtis Carlson, who managed the company for six decades. After her father passed away in February of 1999, she also was named chair of the board.

After Nelson took the helm, Carlson Companies increased its travel agency business by 200 percent. At the time of Nelson's 2001 induction into the Hall of Honor, Carlson Companies had gross sales of $34.4 billion, including franchised operations, and employed more than 170,000 people worldwide. The Carlson brands include Carlson Wagonlit Travel, Regent International Hotels, Radisson Hotels and Resorts, T.G.I. Friday's and Carlson Marketing Group.

Nelson received her degree in international economics with a minor in theatre from Smith College and also studied political science and international economics at Institute des Hautes Etudes Economiques Politiques in Geneva, Switzerland. She also attended the Sorbonne in Paris. Before joining the family business, she began her career at Paine Webber in Minneapolis, where she once was asked to use her initials on all correspondence—hiding her gender until her clients realized that she could do the job. She went on to distinguish herself as an effective leader and visionary businesswoman. She served as Carlson's CEO until 2008 and still serves as board chairman. As of 2008, the company owned or managed 1,000 restaurants and nearly 1,000 hotels.

Nelson placed high importance on the employees of Carlson Companies. She is very proud of her initiative to create "A Great Place for Great People to do Great Work." Her devotion to the employees can clearly be seen in the company's loyal employee base.

She was recognized with the Woodrow Wilson Award for Corporate Citizenship for her numerous civic efforts, and chaired the committee that brought the NFL's Super Bowl to Minnesota.

The recipient of numerous business awards throughout her career, Nelson once was named as one of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business by Fortune magazine, the Most Powerful Woman in Travel by Travel Agent Magazine and one of the World's 100 Most Powerful Women by Forbes magazine.