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2018 Best of Business Community Leader: Gary Nelson

Author: Karen Hart
May, 2018 Issue

“I’ve always had the desire to give back.”—Gary Nelson, founder, Gary D. Nelson Associates

Chances are you’ve heard of Gary D. Nelson Associates, a leader in the human capital management industry, offering staffing and recruiting services to employers and for those seeking employment for nearly 50 years. The company has an established reputation for recruiting top talent and working with organizations of all types and sizes—from Fortune 100 companies to government and nonprofit organizations to startups. Today, its founder, Gary Nelson, is the chairman emeritus of the Nelson Family of Companies, and spends his time on cultural, philanthropic and civic endeavors in the community.

Ask Nelson his secret to success, and he’ll attribute it to passion, perseverance, resilience and a bit of serendipity. A graduate of San Jose State University, Nelson planned a career in journalism or public relations, but his plans were derailed when he was called to duty and served in the reserves for the Vietnam War. When he was released, he began his job search, but couldn’t find work in either field. He widened his search, and was offered a position with the State of California. He was 23 years old and spent the next 10 years working for several firms, always in human resources and personnel until his discontent inspired him to make a change.

“In each position I was never content watching people make many decisions that were unsound or incorrect, so I formed my own company,” says Nelson. In 1970, he founded Gary Nelson Associates with $10,000, a strong determination and grit. At the time, he was married with two young sons, and is the first to admit there were the inevitable challenges along the way.

“I was almost out of business twice,” he says. But then a stroke of serendipity kept his business afloat. In 1972, he was worried his business would fold when a former employer called with a project in the Marshall Islands, an island country located in the Pacific Ocean near the equator. The U.S. had hired contractors to manage the island, but his job was to work on a job progression plan for the indigenous people so they could manage the island on their own. The project took four months to complete and the payoff was worth it. “It was a huge break, and the payoff was big—$15,000,” Nelson recalls. “That was a lot of money then.

“Resilience is so important to rebound from disappointment or lack of success,” he adds. “I’m not the smartest man, but I’m like a dog with the bone and I don’t give up. If you lose that, you’re doomed.”

In the early ‘90s, the company experienced another setback when several large clients went belly-up. “They owed us significant money. It was a major setback. Despite the challenges, the company managed to pull through tough times, evolve and grow in the process. Over the years, Nelson has distinguished himself as an innovator and a staffing industry expert. Some of their major clients included Google, Facebook, Twitter, Cox Communications and Harley Davidson. In the early 2000s, the company developed Workforce Logic, a software app to help major companies manage temporary workers and independent contractors, which was later sold. “We were fortunate to sell Workforce Logic in 2012 to a private equity firm,” says Nelson.

Over his career, Nelson and his wife, Marcia, have supported a number of worthy causes in the community along the way such as in education, health care, and performing arts nonprofit organizations. “I’ve always had the desire to give back,” he says.

In 2011, Nelson stepped down as chairman of the Nelson Family of Companies and spends his time following a new passion—the formation of a new production company. For You from Me Creations LLC is a part of the Nelson Family’s ongoing initiatives to support and serve their communities. “I can’t sing or dance, but I’ve been a Broadway musical aficionado since childhood,” says Nelson with a smile. They’re partnering with award-winning filmmaker, Seth Caplan, to create musical productions that both entertain and generate funding for nonprofits.

At 80, Nelson is still at the top of his game, enjoying time with family and making new plans. “I have more ideas than time in a day, but I have great people to help execute them,” he says. Passionate, driven and caring, no doubt that’s why Nelson was voted Best Business Community Leader in NorthBay biz magazine’s 29th annual readers’ poll. And despite his many accomplishments, the win took him by surprise. “I was shocked. There are so many deserving people, but I am pleased and honored.”



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