C.J.: Marilyn Carlson Nelson says TGI Friday's patrons add desserts because they ordered salads

  • Article by: C.J. , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 10, 2014 - 3:45 PM

Retired Carlson CEO and chair Marilyn Carlson Nelson is sold on the value of another Super Bowl in Minnesota, but she has not bought into most of what’s popular on TV.

A member of the global travel and hospitality family franchise and one of the 400 richest people in America according to Forbes, Nelson is a member of the triumvirate Gov. Mark Dayton appointed to work on landing the 2018 Super Bowl, which would be the state’s second. “I know if we make concessions, we get multiples of the value back for the community,” she told me. “All you have to look at is the fact that every one of the other cities bidding have had the Super Bowl over and over again, so they know the secret. We have to remember it.”

She’d like to forget most of what’s on TV or at least make sure her grandchildren never see it, as she strongly states in this Q&A.

We also discussed the weighty social issues she takes on that keep her humble, one of which recently earned Nelson a Harriet Tubman Center “Safe Journeys Award.” The honor recognizing Nelson’s leadership in protecting children from sexual exploitation, included a walking stick, an instrument used by the abolitionist. My startribune.com/video features a photo of Nelson having her photo taken by someone pretty high up at the White House.


Q: You seem to have gracefully taken ownership of your success without being full of yourself. Some women struggle with that and as a result play down their accomplishments. What’s the key to not doing that?

A: I’m grateful for what is perceived as success. I think that I have taken on such big things like women’s rights, human trafficking — they are so overwhelming, any little progress I feel grateful for. But you don’t solve these problems. So you feel humble. Also leading a big company [keeps you humble]. One day you feel successful, the next day something doesn’t work or there’s a recession or there’s 9-11 when the towers came down and the entire airspace closed. I’m more surprised at anybody who isn’t humble because I think life keeps you very humble.


Q: Do you have advice for women entrepreneurs on taking ownership of their success?

A: I think women, whether they’re women entrepreneurs or women academics, need to take ourselves seriously but be less introspective every time something goes wrong. Learn from it and move on. I think it’s great that young women finally are participating in competitive sports. For years men learned how to lose, get up in the morning, go back and get back on the practice field. For my generation, we didn’t have those opportunities. This next generation of women is going to celebrate their wins; if they lose they are going to analyze what went wrong and get back on the field.


Q: Have the people at CBS’ “Undercover Boss” contacted you?

A: No. [Extended laughter] I think some of my competitors have done that. It’d be kind of fun to do that.


Q: One of my former editors used to say that Minnesota Nice was mainly afforded white guys. What’s been your experience?

A: Was your former editor a white guy? I thought maybe so [Laughter]. In some ways it’s really interesting because there was a period of time where certainly people were nice to women, but being nice to women and respecting them and giving them equal opportunity were two different things. You could compliment them on their outfit, that was nice. What was really nice was when people said, I respect you. I want you on my board and we can agree to disagree on some things. That’s all in the context of a positive relationship. I’m proud of Minnesota Nice. I will remember a member of the press talking to someone over the phone in New York saying, I’ve got to get out of here, this place is so nice. Everyone smiles at me. Everyone makes eye contact. It’s really disconcerting.


Q: Have you ever telephoned one of your properties and encountered a smart-alecky employee who might have a different attitude if they knew it was you?

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