Brad Nelson ’84: A World of Success in Hospitality

“For CIA to have so much focus on food and beverage is one of the critical differentiators separating it from others in hospitality education.”

CIA Alumni Bio

Brad Nelson has been with Marriott International for more than 20 years, holding various leadership positions as a top-level executive. But that wasn’t exactly what he envisioned when he started at the CIA.

“I came in here wanting to be a chef. I wanted nothing to do with front of the house,” he says. “And yet, because front of the house was an integral part of the education, I actually had a much better understanding when I left of what it means to be fully rounded in hospitality.”

A Hospitality Field Filled With Excitement—and Hard Work

Brad graduated from the CIA ready to take the path to hospitality when the opportunity arose. “What makes hospitality exciting is this idea of travel, this idea of amazing places to stay and amazing restaurants and food,” he says. “But the realization sometimes is, wow, there’s a lot of work, a lot that goes into serving an amazing meal in a restaurant, or creating an amazing stay in a hotel. So to be ‘amazing’ actually takes a lot of training, and that’s one of the things that CIA does a great job of.”

His time at Marriott has certainly included its fair share of exciting venues. Brad joined the company in 1998, and went on to serve as corporate director of culinary development and executive chef at luxury properties with Fairmont Hotels and the iconic La Quinta Resort and Club in Palm Springs. He also worked at resorts on the Big Island of Hawaii and Monterey, CA, and in independent restaurants. He was director and global corporate chef prior to taking on his current role as vice president, global food and beverage.

During his hospitality career, he gained experience in both the hotel and restaurant sides of the business—from corporate to independent and from a 10-unit Southern California restaurant chain to Marriott’s 7,000-property-strong global hotel company. And his CIA education proved invaluable wherever he went.

CIA’s Food and Beverage Focus Vital to Hospitality Success

“At the core of hospitality in general is food and beverage,” Brad explains. “Much of the memories that are created through hospitality experiences are those that are built around the food or beverage experience. So for CIA to have so much focus on food and beverage is one of the critical differentiators separating it from others in hospitality education. Food and beverage is kind of the glue that keeps people together.”

With his CIA education and extensive hospitality background, Brad was well-prepared to lead the culinary strategy for Marriott International. Overseeing 30 brands across luxury, premium, and select service segments, he and his team bring innovation, relevance, and active customer engagement to the business.

Vibrant Global Hospitality Community

“Being part of a global hospitality company is amazing, but what really is amazing is being able to get into so many cultures and countries and cuisines, and experience it firsthand,” he says. “Many of our guests tell us they research a food first and then figure out where they’re going to go. So being a global traveler who is willing and excited about trying different flavors and different things is absolutely a key part of hospitality, and a key part of why we’re all in the business.”

Brad has also led key priorities on sustainable seafood, animal welfare, food safety, single-use plastics, food waste, global culinary training, product development, and luxury and lifestyle brand development. He is a member of the Seafood Watch Foodservice Roundtable, American Culinary Federation, International Corporate Chefs Association, and the James Beard Foundation. Industry accolades include being named 2014 Silver Plate Foodservice Operator of the Year by the International Food Manufacturers Association (IFMA) and receiving the Food Arts 2012 Silver Spoon Award. Brad served as a judge at the NRA’S FABI Awards for food and beverage innovation, and as a speaker at Cornell’s Hotel Ezra event and the FoodTank Summit, to name just a few. He has also participated in multiple CIA Flavor Summits.