Embarking on her career with the United States Air Force, Dr. Marilyn K. Nelson spent six years on active duty, serving as a cryptologic linguist during Operations Just Cause and Enduring Iraqi Freedom as she raised a child and put herself through college. She left the Air Force as a combat veteran and earned a Bachelor of Arts in international economics, with honors, from Smith College in 1961. She later earned a Bachelor of Science in education and psychology, a Master of Arts in philosophy of the human mind from the University of Oxford, a Master of Business Administration from the Jack Welch Management Institute, a Doctor of Philosophy in organizational leadership from Johnson & Wales University and a Doctor of Education. Also holding Black Belt Six Sigma certification and information technology infrastructure library certification, she has been awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from both the St. Catherine University and Gustavus Adolphus College.
Starting out as a securities analyst with Paine Webber, Dr. Nelson’s business career took off when she joined Carlson Companies Inc. in 1998. Serving as president, chief operating officer, vice chair and senior vice president between 1998 and 2003, she held the role of chief executive officer until 2008 and was company chair from 2008 to 2011. She then spent nearly a decade working in the ServiceNow ecosystem as the executive director of Accenture from 2011 to 2014, a partner with KPMG International from 2014 to 2018, and a consultant to the global head of client success with DXC Technology from 2018 to 2020. Since 2020, she has excelled as the chief executive officer for Invicta Global Partners LLC and has plans to bring the company to new success.
Over the course of her career, Dr. Nelson has also spent time as co-chair of Carlson Holdings Inc. and Carlson Wagonlit Travel; on the board of directors of the Exxon Mobil Corp.; as a member of a number economic organizations, including the World Economic Forum, the National Center for Social Entrepreneurs, the Committee of 200, and the Minnesota Economic Association; co-founder of the Minnesota Women’s Economic Roundtable; and Rezidor Hotel group chair of the National Women’s Business Council. She has additionally donated her expertise to the tourism industry, acting as the vice chair of the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board; a board member of the Singapore Tourism Bureau, the Travel Industry Association of America and the U.S. Travel Association; and a member of the World Travel & Tourism Council and the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International.
Passionate about mentoring young professionals, particularly young women just graduating from high school and college, Dr. Nelson has been active with a number of academic institutions over the years. Serving as a distinguished visiting professor at Johnson & Wales University and an adjunct professor at the Pentagon, she was also active on the board of directors of the Center for Intentional Leadership, the distinguished advisory council of the St. Catherine University, the advisory board of the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and a trustee of Smith College and Macalester College. Notably, she authored a book on leadership, “How We Lead Matters: Reflections on a Life of Leadership,” in 2008.
Over the decades, Dr. Nelson has been motivated continually to be a better person than she was the day before, so that she can make a positive impact on the world every day. Some of her greatest career achievements include starting a new business in Australia at the request of a client, serving as the youngest instructor on military intelligence during her time with the U.S. Air Force, being part of Operation Just Cause, and serving as an adjunct professor to teach military history at the Pentagon. A particularly poignant moment for her was being at the Pentagon during 9/11. She had stepped out to brief the chief of staff, which led to her being the only survivor out of her 12 colleagues and completely changed the way that she looked at life.
The recipient of countless honors and accolades over the course of her career, Dr. Nelson was recognized by the Women in Tech STEM Program in Australia in 2016, having previously been named to the Business Hall of Fame in 2008 and to the American Society of Travel Agents Hall of Fame in 2007. Also in 2007, she was named among the 100 Most Influential People in Business Ethics by Ethisphere Magazine, the Entrepreneur of the Decade by the Women Presidents’ Organization, and one of the 100 Most Powerful Women by Forbes. 2006 was another accolade heavy year for Dr. Nelson, seeing her presented with a Leadership Award from the Multicultural Development Center, an Icon Award by the National Business Travel Association, and being named a Chevalier Knight by the French Legion of Honor and among America’s Best Leaders by the U.S. News and World Report.
Listed among Forbes 400 Richest Americans since 2006, some of Dr. Nelson’s earlier accolades include being named Businesswoman of the Year by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Small Business Administration in 2005, and, in 2003, being named Minnesotan of the Year by Minnesota Monthly, Swedish American of the Year by the king and queen of Sweden, and to the Hall of Fame of Sales & Marketing Executives Minneapolis. She was additionally named Business Woman of the World by the Business Women’s Network in 2001, the #1 Most Powerful Woman in Travel by Travel Agent Magazine from 1997 to 2003 and Executive of the Year by Corporate Report Minnesota in 1999. In light of all her accomplishments, Dr. Nelson has been presented with the prestigious Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award.