Karin Nelsen | VP of Legal & Human Resources

Posted Dec 5, 2016

The 2016 season marks Karin Nelsen’s rookie year with the Minnesota Vikings, but she’s no stranger to the purple and gold.

Growing up on a farm in Westbrook, Minnesota, Nelsen remembers bonding with her family – in particular, her father – over support of the team.

“I think the Vikings have a special place in Minnesota history, and they certainly have a special place in my heart and in my family’s heart,” Nelsen said. “It’s hard to imagine growing up without having Vikings football games on on Sunday afternoons.”

Nelsen joined the Vikings in a professional capacity after an 18-year career with Cargill and now oversees both the Legal and Human Resources departments on a daily basis.

During her tenure with Cargill, Nelsen supported a broad range of businesses and geographies. Following a nine-year stint in Minneapolis, she moved to Moscow in 2007 to serve as Lead Lawyer for Russia and then on to Geneva, Switzerland, as European Deputy General Counsel. Nelsen then relocated to Singapore, where she was named Asia Pacific General Counsel. In 2012, she returned to the U.S. to work as Cargill’s North America General Counsel.

Nelsen received her law degree from the University of Iowa Law School and earned her undergraduate degree in accounting from Minnesota State University, Mankato (1987). Prior to joining Cargill, she worked as a litigator in Seattle and Minneapolis law firms and worked as a CPA at Touche Ross.

Below are excerpts from an interview with Nelsen:


Influential person in my career: My parents have really made the biggest difference. They really motivated me and encouraged me, and having that kind of unconditional love and support, that’s a powerful force. Growing up on a farm, I can tell you one thing that most farm families, and certainly my parents, really value is commitment – commitment to the community, commitment to whatever you’re doing. I really do believe that, and I’m committed to doing my job in the best way possible. I don’t think I would have that value instilled if it weren’t for my parents.

I think I’ve always been blessed with people over the course of my career who have been invested in me, have had the courage to tell me when they think I need to look at things differently or do things differently. Certainly, I feel like [Vikings Chief Operating Officer Kevin Warren] is that kind of person here for me. It was getting to know him and seeing his vision for the organization, and really having in him a true mentor and sponsor now since I’ve been here. It just makes all the difference.

Advice that stuck with me: I’ve received lots of really good advice along the way. [One of the things I was advised was that] being intellectually curious is an important trait to have. I now encourage people to allow themselves to do that. To be a true learner, and to learn from others, and to ask those questions and to really dig in, I think that’s – at least for lawyers – a really critical thing to be able to do. And not to assume that you have all the answers, but really dig in to make sure you know everything before drawing a conclusion.

What I love about the Vikings: I think the Vikings have a special place in Minnesota history, and they certainly have a special place in my heart and in my family’s heart.

The things the Vikings have been able to do with the community, and I think that will be even more going forward, are wonderful. There’s a lot of good work that’s done through players or coaches or others on the business side. And we can do all that because we have the sort of brand that we do. You can make that sort of impact. And that makes me really excited.

Feature of my job I most enjoy: You know you’re in the right place and in the right job when you get up in the morning and can hardly wait to get in the office. That’s what I feel, I do. I know it may sound corny, but it’s really true. Why is that? For me, always, it’s the people first. We have an incredible group of people in this organization, and I love interacting with people who are good at their core as people but who are also extremely competent in what they do. So they’re good professionals, but they’re good people with good hearts. And to me, that’s kind of a magical combination.

There’s not necessarily one particular duty within my role, but I love wearing both hats [of Legal and HR]. What I love about this type of role is that I don’t have to [specialize in one particular area]. We’re responsible with our team to handle all of the legal issues that come up. So that allows you, when you’re a curious person, to learn every day.


What I like…

Family activity: At this stage of my life, truly what I appreciate the most is just when we’re together. I find that I listen so much more closely to stories that my parents talk about when they were growing up and stories about my grandparents. I really just want that together time, and it really doesn’t matter what we’re doing.

Possession: I think the thing that I feel the most sentimental about is my grandmother’s wedding ring … on most days, I will have that on. That means a lot. I was the only granddaughter, and I really feel her with me. I love Southeast Asia. I really fell in love with Vietnam, and the people and the culture – it’s such a warm, friendly place. Just incredibly generous people. I brought back some art, three paintings, from one of my last trips to Vietnam, in Hanoi. Every day I look at those paintings, and it just generates a lot of positive emotions from my time there, from the people I met who were making these paintings, who were the artist that did them.

Time of year: I do love football season, and I always have. Football was important in the high school that I was in, and football always dominated the fall. I always felt like the air smelled different on Friday nights – we always used to say that: ‘It smells like Football Friday.’ I loved Friday night football growing up, so I definitely love that time.

Music: I’m very eclectic. I play piano. I was classically trained, so that music still very much soothes me, resonates with me, I like the structure of that music. In terms of contemporary music, I run the gamut. I really like old-school R&B. I was an ’80s girl, I graduated from high school in ’83, so I grew up with Bon Jovi and Van Halen and AC/DC. If you had my playlist when I work out, that’s what you’re going to hear, and I’m not ashamed of it, either. I really still dig that music. I’ve also developed a strong attachment to Lyle Lovett and his music. I’ve been to see him in concert more than any other artist. He’s funny and quirky, he writes a lot of his own music, and I respect that kind of talent musically. He’s smart as a whip, and I always enjoy the kind of artist who can kind of bring that into their music. So I try to see him at least once a year, sometimes twice a year, if I can.

Go-to gadget: We can’t live without our phones, unfortunately. But that definitely is mine – my iPhone is like a security blanket now.

App: I use Uber a lot. I live in the city, and it’s really nice to just grab one quick ride to meet friends for dinner, to go to a concert, etc.

Also, Instagram. A lot of my friends have kind of fallen off the Facebook wagon, but they’re on Instagram, so that’s probably my second-most used.

Hobbies: I’m a regular exerciser – if I don’t work out five days a week, that’s a bad week for me. So that’s important to me. I also love walking. I live right by the river downtown [Minneapolis], so I walk outside to Gold Medal Park, and I get on those trails and walk all summer long […] I love how peaceful it is, how tranquil it is. That’s become an important part of my routine.

I serve on three different nonprofit boards. I guess you could say it’s work, but it’s not for me. I’m on three boards because I care very much about what each organization does. I serve on the Guthrie board of directors because I love the Guthrie Theater. I’ve been a season ticket holder since I moved here in 2012. I serve at the U of Iowa Law School Foundation Board. Law school really changed my life, and I wouldn’t have this career without it. I’m so grateful to that law school, so I want to make sure I can do everything I can to make sure it’s sustainable and available to other students so they can have that opportunity. I serve on the board at St. David’s Center, an early-education nonprofit that has a really incredible autism program.

I’m a reader, and I’m a sports fan … I’m a big Twins fan … I watch a lot of college football … I love sports, so I’ll go to sporting events whenever I can.

And I play the piano, so I still try to get that in from time to time.

Movies: Rudy, Shawshank Redemption, Pride and Prejudice

Restaurant: I love talking about food – my eyes will light up. I am a foodie. I love exploring new and good restaurants, and I also like having some favorites.

Local favorites: Spoon and Stable, Bachelor Farmer, Sanctuary Restaurant

Favorite meal in the U.S.: The Catbird Seat in Nashville, Tennessee

• Vacation destination: I really don’t have one because I really love exploring, so every new place becomes my favorite place until I go to the next one.