trustee and Kellogg graduate Wendy Nelson '99 is on board
to develop her family's hotel business.
career path leads Wendy Nelson '99 to feel 'at home' in hospitality
is a true friend to Northwestern University through her involvement
as a trustee. She
is a 1991 graduate of NU's Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences
and a 1999 Kellogg graduate. As co-chair for a recent athletics initiative,
Wendy has helped raise new endowment funds in support of Northwestern
pro tennis player, restaurateur, venture capitalist, hotelier:
Wendy Nelson '99 has pursued what many would call
a nontraditional career.
wasn't always sure where each step would lead, but she followed
her guiding principles: to work with passion and learn as
much as possible from each new experience.
it's clear each move led logically to the next. And now, Nelson
is able to draw on all her experiences to maximize the value
she creates for her family's global hospitality business.
each crossroad, I've been willing to take a calculated risk,"
says Nelson, vice president of Carlson Hotels Real Estate
Co. "I've been able to fight through the fear of not
having the expertise. I realized I could go out and find most
of what I needed just by being persistent."
Nelson works to build the long-term equity of brands such
as Regent and Radisson hotels, her life lessons frequently
come into play.
earliest passion was tennis. As a teen she considered playing
professionally, but her prowess on the court earned her an
athletic scholarship to Northwestern. She joined the university's
tennis team and took full advantage of Northwestern's liberal
arts curriculum. Her interest in ethical decision making led
her to pursue a major in philosophy — a field full of
questions and "gray areas."
in life do you have all the facts you need to make a decision,"
Nelson says. "You have to interpret data and use reasoning
and intuition to make your best choice in the context of your
experience and values."
graduating, Nelson's first career choice was tennis. She joined
the pro circuit for a year but discovered the tour was far
from glamorous. At times, she found herself on a court "in
the middle of nowhere," with few spectators. "It
was a great lesson in persistence and in being motivated to
win for myself," she says.
Nelson began to think about other career possibilities. She
enrolled in a few business classes. "I had the feeling
that I had an entrepreneurial spirit and wanted to build something,"
opportunity came when her former coach — Nick Bollettieri,
coach and mentor to the likes of Andre Agassi and Monica Seles
— tasked Nelson with creating a restaurant for him.
Initially nervous, Nelson rose to the challenge. Studying
business books at night and meeting with potential investors
by day, she went on to open a successful 200-seat sports bar
experience reinforced Nelson's interest in business, and she
returned to Northwestern to earn her MBA. Upon graduation,
she joined Lake Capital, a private equity firm, where she
helped to consolidate middle-market businesses to expand their
a few years, Nelson's mother began asking her to apply her
entrepreneurial skills to the family business: Carlson Companies
Inc., one of the nation's largest privately held firms valued
at $34-billion system-wide.
thought carefully about the invitation, eventually accepting
a role as vice president of real estate development for T.G.I.
Friday's U.S.A., one of the Carlson brands.
did feel a sense of duty and responsibility to my family,
but I was also excited because this was a business I truly
loved — restaurants," Nelson says, noting that
her mother is the company's chairman and CEO. "I believed
we had a great brand and huge opportunity for growth."
spent three years developing the TGI Friday's business before
moving up to her current position with the company. Charged
with building the portfolio of owned and managed assets, Nelson
says she thinks constantly about how to create maximum value
— and the long-term impact of each decision.
Nelson has spent most of her life preparing herself for the
task. "I'm still learning every day," she says.