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In the Nation's Interest

Spotlight on: Marilyn Carlson Nelson

by CED May 26, 2015

2015 Distinguished Performance Award: Leadership in Diversity Award

Current Position: Co-CEO, Carlson Holdings

Quote from Marilyn: “When I was CEO of Carlson, the leadership qualities I valued the most in our employees were transparency, accountability and the ability to “connect the dots.”   Transparency and accountability speak to integrity which are non-negotiable traits of responsible leadership.  But the ability to connect the dots is a specialty of a different sort.   It relies on peripheral vision – a capacity to assess the opportunities and risks outside of your traditional field of view and relate these to the business. For example, do you think I ever thought as I was studying for a career in business that taking an engineering course might be beneficial?  I did not.  And then there was Six Sigma.  Do you think that as the CEO of a global travel and hospitality company I ever thought that people living in caves in Afghanistan could bring my global business to its knees?  I did not.  And, then there was 9/11. 

The value of “connecting the dots” is why I was determined to create a meritocracy at Carlson.  I knew that men and women needed to partner to achieve our greatest competitive advantage.  I also realized that as a global player in travel and hospitality, our core competencies were uniquely aligned to address a very dark issue – the millions of children worldwide who are sexually exploited in the travel and tourism industry.  We had a responsibility to do so as do all travel companies.”

Did you know?  By the end of Marilyn’s tenure as CEO of Carlson, women represented 49% of the company’s senior management.  Carlson was distinguished as the first, U.S. based global travel company to sign the industry’s international code of conduct to protect children from sexual exploitation in travel and tourism.   Marilyn has been recognized by the White House, humanitarian and industry organizations for her leadership on this issue.  She is the recipient of the Oslo Business for Peace Award.