Kari Carlson Learned Her Trade at the Foot of a Master Tower Builder


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Kari Carlson, President and CEO of Tower Systems, Inc. (TSI), may already have over 25 years of experience under her toolbelt, but her tower education goes back further than that. She remembers sorting bolts for her dad when he would come back from being out on the road. William “Bill” Carlson started Tower Systems, Inc. in 1975 and enjoyed spending time with his daughters while having them help him perform tasks around the warehouse and office.

“It didn’t pay all that well,” she chuckled while telling the story to Inside Towers, “but it was time well spent with dad and it taught me at a very early age the values of hard work.”

After graduating from the University of Minnesota, Kari went to work at TSI and held roles in the Marketing and Estimating Departments. A couple years later, she was transferred to the Operations Department, eventually becoming the Director of Operations. In 1999, she was named Chief Operating Officer of the Midwest Division where she managed several departments at their corporate headquarters. Kari held that position until 2002, when a new challenge was presented to her.

“In 2002 I packed my bags and moved to Florida to run our Southeast Division, Tower Systems South, Inc.,” Carlson said. “In that role, I managed all departments within the division and remained on the corporate Board of Directors. I returned to our corporate offices in South Dakota in 2014, as Vice President of the corporation and spent the following five years overseeing both divisions of our company and learning whatever I could from my mentor…our company founder and CEO, my dad, Bill Carlson.  We lost dad on March 25, 2019, and though there is nothing he ever could have done to prepare me for that day, his guidance and mentoring during my 27 years of working with him prepared me for the position that I now hold within our company.” Carlson added, “My nine years serving on the NATE Board in various capacities and five years serving on the Tower Family Foundation Board have also helped tremendously in shaping me as an executive.”

Carlson notices a lot of positive changes when it comes to acceptance of women in the industry, but she feels that there is still a way to go.  

“As someone who grew up in this industry, I enjoy going to corporate events like NATE Unite and looking around the room to see an ever-growing number of female colleagues in our workspace. We now see them holding positions as tower technicians, as administrators and as executives,” said Carlson. “Though we’ve seen this increase in female representation, I still witness firsthand some situations where respect, ability and knowledge are brought into question just because of being a woman. I am hopeful that in the next five years we’ll see things transform further to create full equality across all fields of our industry.”

When asked if there are opportunities for women, Carlson was abundantly clear in her answer. “Absolutely!” Carlson said, with the observation that the industry continues to be a fast paced and growing one that is very focused on its workforce.  

“When I left Florida in 2014, I filled the position I vacated with the most skilled and experienced applicant, a woman. Several other key positions within my corporation are currently occupied by very talented women. When we look for candidates, we look for the most highly qualified person regardless of gender. Women have proven to be capable in all areas of our industry,” she said. “I look forward to seeing them in an expanded role as time goes on.”

As Carlson’s conversation with Inside Towers came to a close, she looked at a photo of her and her dad and smiled. “This industry is in my blood. I am so proud of all members of my team! It’s not for everybody but for those of us that choose to make it ours, it’s a special one that allows both men and women to climb high both up on a tower and in their careers,” Carlson said. “I am excited to see what the future of our industry brings.  Based on where we’ve been and where we’re at, I think where we’re headed is going to be great!”

By Jim Fryer, Managing Editor, Inside Towers

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