Marilyn Carlson Nelson

FORMER CHAIR AND CEO, CARLSON

Marilyn Carlson Nelson is former chair and chief executive officer of Carlson, a global travel company. 

Nelson has appeared on Forbes magazine’s list as one of “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.” She was named one of “America’s Best Leaders” by U.S. News and World Report, and in 2007, Ethisphere Magazine recognized her as one of the “100 Most Influential People in Business Ethics.” She is the best-selling author of “How We Lead Matters: Reflections on a Life of Leadership.” 

In 2004, Nelson co-chaired the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. She served as chair of the National Women’s Business Council, a bi-partisan advisory council to the President and Congress.  She is a former chair of the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board and a former executive committee member of the World Travel & Tourism Council.

Under her leadership, Carlson was the first major North American travel and hospitality company to take a stand against the sexual exploitation of children in the travel industry. On behalf of the company, Nelson signed the travel industry’s international Code of Conduct to end child prostitution, child pornography and the trafficking of children for sexual purposes. Carlson also joined with the Queen of Sweden to co-found the World Childhood Foundation to protect street children around the world. In recognition of Carlson’s initiatives to protect children at risk from human trafficking, The White House honored the company in 2013 with the inaugural “Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking.”  In 2014, Nelson was chosen by a committee of Nobel Prize recipients to receive the “Oslo Business for Peace Award” which recognizes individual business leaders for their leadership in promoting responsible business practices.

The Commander of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit (2010), was presented to Nelson by His Majesty King Harald of Norway.  The order recognizes outstanding service in the interests of Norway.  In 2006, H.E. Jean-David Levitte, French Ambassador to the United States, inducted Nelson into the French Légion d’Honneur. The order recognizes citizens of France, and a select few others, for their exemplary leadership and service to humanity. She is also a member of the Royal Order of the North Star First Class, presented by the King and Queen of Sweden, which recognizes services to Sweden.  The Order of the White Rose, Officer First Class, was presented by the President of Finland, Mauno Kolvisto.  The order recognizes military as well as civilian merit. 

Nelson serves as Chair of Inspire Medical, Secretary of the National Endowment for Democracy.  Nelson is a former board member of the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, ExxonMobil, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the United Nations Global Compact.  She is former chair of the Minnesota Orchestra and Mayo Clinic Board of Trustees and former Co-Chair of the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee.  Nelson also served on the following travel industry boards; U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Council, board chair (2008-2010), vice chair(2006-2008), National Women’s Business Council, chair (2002-2005), U.S. Travel Association (formerly Travel Industry of America), chair (2000), board of directors (1999-2001), Hall of Leaders (2003), Singapore International Advisory Council for Tourism (1999-2005) and White House Commission on Travel & Tourism(1995). 

Nelson graduated from Smith College with a degree in international economics and studied at the Sorbonne in Paris as well as the Institut des Hautes Etudes Economiques et Politiques in Geneva.  She has received honorary doctorate degrees from Smith College in 2015, University of Minnesota in 2008, Johnson & Wales in 1998, Gustavus Adolphus in 1984 and College of St. Catherine in 1983.