She was born in 19 August 1939, the daughter of Curt Carlson, who founded the company in 1938. She received a bachelor's degree from Smith College in 1961.
She joined the board of Carlson in 1973. After her father's death in 1999, she took over as CEO. She shares ownership of the company with her sister Barbara Carlson Gage.
She has been a main board Director of Qwest Communications (1975-2002), First Bank System (1978-97), and Exxon Mobil (1991-2006 or later).
Her daughter Diana Nelson succeeded her as chairman in 2013.