Centennial Champion

Marilyn Carlson Nelson

Chairman and Former Chief Executive Officer Carlson

I am breaking format in our Centennial memory book to share with you — in my own voice — a very personal story just as life sometimes jogs us out of our routine with the sudden and unexpected. You see, my husband and I had just dropped off our beautiful 19-year old daughter, Juliet, for her first year at Smith College. A few weeks later, we received the call that she had been killed in an automobile crash.

I truly did not know if I would have the courage to carry on. I cycled through feelings of pain and anger that ultimately led to abject depression. My faith was sorely tested and, for a time, I left God. Fortunately, God did not leave me. Eventually, my husband and I realized that we could best honor our daughter by making a new commitment to living to the fullest every day that we were given that our Juliet did not have.

After awhile, I began taking time at the end of each day to reflect on whether or not I had made a positive difference, if I had lived up to my values. I asked myself, would I be proud to sign my name to this day like an artist who eventually stands back and says, “It’s good, it’s finished,” and signs her name. I can’t tell you that every day is one that I would sign my name to, but just the exercise inspires me to try to do better.

With time, I somehow found the confidence to share this experience in a very public way. I have written about it in my book “How We Lead Matters: Reflections on a Life of Leadership” and often include it in my speeches. I have told Juliet’s story to audiences around the world and here in my own community — each time knowing that I am passing on a priceless life lesson.

Marilyn Carlson Nelson is chairman and former CEO of Carlson which includes such brands as: Radisson Hotels, Country Inns & Suites, Carlson Wagonlit Travel and T.G. I. Friday’s. More than 170,000 people work under the Carlson brands in 161 countries. Nelson has appeared on Forbes Magazine’s list as one of “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.” U.S. News and World Report named her one of “America’s Best Leaders.” She serves on the boards of ExxonMobil, the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. She is also chair of the Mayo Clinic Board. Nelson is the author of the bestselling book “How We Lead Matters: Reflections on a Life of Leadership.” She is the proud River Valleys Centennial Champion and she is always a Girl Scout.