She's Lovin' It Nelson Stays True to Values in McDonald's Corporate Role

Josh Watson

Susan (Smith 99) Nelson grew up in a small town in Oklahoma, graduating in a class of just 68. 

From those humble beginnings, Susan has found success in public relations at McDonald’s, one of the world’s largest and most-recognized companies. 

She works as McDonald’s senior director of communication and field activation in the United States.

“I oversee the main communications between our corporate office in Chicago and our 22 field offices across the country,” she said. “I also work with our 22 regional communicators across the U.S. to make sure our strategic plan is being executed across all 14,000 restaurants. It’s a very busy job.”

My college experience at OC was the launching pad for my professional career. Susan Nelson
While the small town girl who came to OC and made it big is an exciting story, Susan did not necessarily have a master plan beyond being faithful to her Christian values. Her husband, Ryan (98), grew up on a farm just down the road from Susan. In fact, Ryan is the only boy Susan ever dated.

They got married soon after their time at OC, and moved to Detroit for Ryan’s engineering position in the automotive industry. Susan responded to an online job posting for the McDonald’s Detroit field office, a job she landed. 

She excelled in Detroit and was soon promoted to a position in McDonald’s corporate office in Chicago, and this time, Ryan and Susan moved for her job. 

More promotions followed for Susan, taking them to Raleigh, Chicago, Phoenix, and Chicago again. 

But McDonald’s rewarded Susan’s commitment and excellence by allowing her to move back to Oklahoma to work from her home state. She travels by plane a lot, but the move has been worth it.

“With small children, Ryan and I really felt like it was time to be closer to family,” Susan said. “McDonald’s is such a great company, and they have been really flexible with my work schedule so I can remain committed to the values that are most important to me. It also helps that technology allows me to be in constant communication with my team regardless of where I am.”

Since her first interview with McDonald’s, Susan has been committed to balancing her faith with her professional success. 

In that interview, someone commented that Susan’s faith must be important to her, given the cross necklace she was wearing and the name of her alma mater.

“I was really just being true to myself, not trying to make a statement,” Susan said. “My faith has helped me in my career, not only trying to be a role model, but by showing up every single day and letting that influence how I lead a team. It is very hard to achieve and maintain a high level of success, but I am committed to doing so by being who I am.”

Susan says OC strengthened her commitment to her values.

“My college experience at OC was the launching pad for my professional career,” Susan said. “The faith foundation reinforced my values, and an OC connection helped me land my first internship in Gov. (Frank) Keating’s office. My last internship turned into my first full-time job. I am thankful that my communication professors gave me the confidence to do big things.”

Dr. Larry Jurney, chair of OC’s Department of Communication, remembers Susan as a dedicated student.

“Susan was an excellent student,” Larry said. “She was a delight to have in class, and I am so very proud of her. She demonstrated great ability and dedication in her studies, so it is not surprising that she has been so successful in her public relations career.”

According to Susan, that success built on her experiences as an OC undergrad.

“I am really proud of my time at OC, and I cherish my experiences there,” she said. “It was about being involved in campus life and clubs and taking advantage of all the experiences OC had to offer. I am a big fan of OC.”

Photos by Michelle Leach, Magnolia Adams Photography

Summer 2015

View more stories from the Summer 2015 issue of Vision magazine.