Arlen Nordhagen speaking at the Alumni Honors Banquet

2023 Alumni Honors: Arlen Nordhagen

Entrepreneur leans on advice of UND professors to create a lifetime of business success and philanthropy.

Even though Arlen Nordhagen, ’78, already had a plan for his college education, he agreed to tag along with his friends on their summer tour of UND.

Arlen, a kid from Williston, North Dakota, “knew” he would attend Kansas State University and study nuclear engineering. What he didn’t know was that the tagalong tour to the University of North Dakota would lead to a chance interaction with Professor Don Severson.

Severson asked him about his college plans. When Arlen replied, the professor’s reaction surprised him: He told Arlen not to study nuclear engineering and that chemical engineering was a better choice with broader career opportunities. He also told Arlen to study at UND. Arlen took that advice to heart. 

Arlen Nordhagen

Graduating with a degree in chemical engineering, Arlen never thought he would end up in the business world. However, a conversation with department chair Tom Owens while traveling to a chemical engineering conference changed his course. “Owens said, ‘Have you ever considered other types of things, like business?’ He thought the combination of chemical engineering plus an MBA was great for long-term career advancement,” Arlen said. “And, of course, that ended up changing my life. Because three years later, I ended up starting my MBA studies.”

After a short stint working for DuPont, Arlen attended Harvard Business School, where he graduated with high distinction and was named a George F. Baker Scholar. After five years in various management positions back at DuPont, Arlen moved with his family to Colorado, where he worked as an entrepreneurial consultant for American Business Advisors.

That’s when he was approached with the idea for SecurCare self-storage. “My area of specialty was in analyzing industries and developing business plans. After I studied the self-storage industry, I realized it was a fantastic industry to be in.”

Arlen co-founded SecurCare Self Storage in 1988 and became president in 1999. In 2013, Arlen created National Storage Affiliates, which today encompasses more than 1,100 self-storage properties in 42 states and Puerto Rico and is valued at $10 billion. Arlen is also a co-founder of MMM Healthcare, Inc., the largest Medicare advantage provider in Puerto Rico, and is the founder and principal of more than a dozen real estate and investment companies.

I really feel that I’m in a position of being blessed in order to be a blessing for others.

Arlen lives by the personal core values of integrity, accountability, compassion and humility. “Truthfully, compared to what others have contributed to society, I don’t know that I feel worthy,” he replied when asked what receiving the Sioux Award for Distinguished Achievement & Leadership meant to him. “But when I was a kid, I lived in a house that didn’t even have indoor plumbing. And to see where I am now gives me hope that the American Dream is still alive, so I want to show that with hard work, even humble beginnings can grow into great success. And it’s just something I wish my parents were here to see.”

Despite his business success, Arlen hasn’t forgotten his humble upbringing. “I’ve really been blessed in my life. And, as a result, I really feel that I’m in a position of being blessed in order to be a blessing to others. So that’s the personal motto I try to keep at the top of my mind.”