Born: Marin County, Calif.
Education: Bachelor’s degree, mechanical engineering, University of California, Davis; MBA, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Whom have you admired most in business and why?
I’ve always admired John Gardner because he founded the Common Cause and started the American Leadership Forum. He’s a guru on what leadership is all about, and his concepts are at the center of continuous renewal processes. I also admire Peter Drucker because he figured out why the customer is important and taught that concept to managers.
What is the greatest business lesson you’ve learned?
That would have to be that attitude and enthusiasm are so important to success, and every day a person gets to decide what their attitude will be. It’s at the heart of the concept of overdelivering to customers, and the potential for every person on the team to contribute to that result is limitless. The people who know best how to serve the customers are probably already on your team. As a leader, you just have to know how to tap in to that.
Nelson on how to motivate staff:It’s important for any CEO to spend time with the various constituencies, especially the employees, because they want to hear from you. I try to get to all of our locations every 18 months, and I require all of our officers to spend at least 10 percent of their time out in the field. We could be viewed as a very traditional tap water company, but I’ve tried to make this a fun place to work, and I wanted to instill a sense of pride in servicing our customers. As an example, each holiday season the officers dress up, and we serve breakfast to the employees and sing carols to them. It’s just one way that we can not only have some fun but demonstrate our appreciation, and that’s all part of driving customer service excellence.