The Art and Science of Managing the New Global Corporation

author: Marilyn Carlson Nelson, Carlson Companies
published: June 29, 2011,   recorded: March 2006,   views: 2816

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In a motivational talk aimed at the next generation of business leaders, Marilyn Carlson Nelson utilizes her history with the sprawling, family-owned Carlson hospitality empire as a case study.

Her father began the business during the Depression, with the ambition of “building a company to last.” He ruled with what she describes as a “command and control” style. As the company moved into the travel and hotel business following World War II, her father organized the different divisions to compete against each other. After 50 years, he relinquished the company to his daughter—a “pretty innovative” decision, she calls it.

Carlson Nelson determined that the challenge of taking the company global required diverging both from his management style and organizational structure. “I told people we were going to be more democratic, consensual and collaborative. Some people thought, ‘Ah-hah, this is predictable, it’s a woman.’” But she believed the business model and corporate culture had to change. “We would remain stewards of financial capital, but we had to add stewardship of human capital.”

She emphasized integrity and loyalty among managers and interdependence among divisions. Above all, she stressed “respect for the long-term,” so that profits never outweighed sustaining human or natural resources. Carlson Nelson came to believe there could be a “positive application of business in addressing problems of the world.”

Her values seem to have taken hold. When the World Trade Center towers fell on 9/11, a nearby hotel manager turned his ballroom into a rescue station. And more recently, the manager of one T.G.I.Friday’s restaurant hit by Hurricane Katrina rigged up a truck engine to keep the restaurant’s refrigerators running, and served up food and drink to desperate citizens.

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