3rd-Generation Carlson Named Chair of Co. Board

Diana Nelson, daughter of current Chair Marilyn Carlson Nelson, has served on the board for nearly a decade and will assume her new role in May.

Global hospitality and travel company Carlson said Tuesday that its board of directors has named a new chair, only the third in the company’s 74-year history.
Diana Nelson—the granddaughter of company founder Curt Carlson and the daughter of current Chair Marilyn Carlson Nelson—will assume her position in May. Carlson Nelson has been chair since 1999, the year her father died, and she will remain on the board after her daughter becomes chair.
Nelson, meanwhile, has served on Carlson’s board for nearly a decade.
“I am reverent about this role and see it as a significant responsibility,” she said in a prepared statement. “As leadership of the company passes to the third generation, I’m honored to continue the legacy started by my grandfather.”
Nelson added that the company is “fortunate to have Trudy Rautio at the helm” and said it now has “the best leadership team we’ve ever had.”
Rautio took the reins as president and CEO in August, shortly after former leader Hubert Joly left to join Richfield-based Best Buy Company, Inc., as its chief executive.
Nelson’s appointment comes at a time when Carlson is aggressively pursuing its “Ambition 2015” plan—a strategy announced in March 2010 that aims to grow the company’s hotel portfolio by at least 50 percent to 1,500 hotels in operation by 2015, and expand the presence of several hotel chains in key markets.
Nelson, who grew up in Minnesota, graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College and received her MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. She has worked in various advertising and marketing jobs in New York, including stints with Ogilvy & Mather Advertising and American Express. Unlike some other Carlson heirs, she never worked for the company. Nelson now lives in San Francisco with her husband, John Atwater, and their five children.
In addition to serving on Carlson’s board, she also serves as chair of the U.S. board of the World Childhood Foundation, a trustee for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and a trustee of the Carlson Family Foundation. Additionally, Nelson is a member of the Harvard University Board of Overseers and serves on the advisory board of San Francisco-based real estate investment company Prime Group.
In a prepared statement, Carlson Nelson—who will remain on the board after her daughter becomes chair—said Nelson is “exceptionally qualified” to lead Carlson’s board given her experience with Harvard University and other not-for-profit and for-profit boards.
Tom Hubler—president at Hubler for Business Families, Inc., which provides consulting services for family businesses—told the Star Tribune that it’s fairly unusual for a company to reach the hands of the third generation.
“According to statistics, only about 23 percent of family-owned businesses make it to the third generation,” Hubler told the Minneapolis newspaper. “It’s a mark of distinction to reach that level. Clearly the Carlson folks have been doing the right things to lay the groundwork that prepare the kids for stewardship of the company.”
According to the Star Tribune, members of the third Carlson generation who sit on the board with Nelson are sister Wendy Nelson and cousins Scott and Geoffrey Gage. Edwin “Skip” Gage and Carlson Nelson are other family members on the board. Outside directors, meanwhile, are former Best Buy CEO Brad Anderson, former Hanesbrands, Inc., Chairman Lee Chaden, Cargill Chairman and CEO Gregory Page, retired Control Data/Ceridian Chairman and CEO Lawrence Perlman, and Rautio.
In March, privately held Carlson released its 2011 financial report, the first one made public in four years. It reported that system-wide revenues—which include sales from the company’s franchisees—rose 13 percent last year to $38 billion. Meanwhile, company revenues rose 8 percent from 2010 to $4.5 billion.