Power 100 Q&A: Tom Nelson

 In Power 100 Q&A profiles

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Tom Nelson

TOM NELSON

Walled in

56, Chairman and CEO, National Gypsum
Charlotte

Alma maters
Stanford University, B.S.
Harvard University, MBA

This marks Nelson’s 20th year leading the second-largest U.S. maker of gypsum wallboard, with 18 plants, including a 45-employee Wilmington site that reopened last year. The company was acquired in 1995 by his father-in-law, C.D. Spangler Jr., who died in July at age 86. His wife, Anna Spangler Nelson, is on the UNC System Board of Governors. If you see Nelson at Taco Bell or KFC, there’s a reason: He’s on the board of the Yum! Brands restaurant company. Closer to home, he’s on the Atrium Health Board of Commissioners.

What is North Carolina’s key challenge?
Increasing third-grade reading proficiency, an educational milestone that greatly impacts whether a young student will succeed in school and the workforce. Studies have shown that students who can’t read on grade level by third grade are four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma than proficient readers. Laying the foundation for reading proficiency starts with participation in a high-quality pre-K program, such as NC Pre-K. A group of North Carolina CEOs will be asking for continued increased funding to allow more eligible children to have access to NC Pre-K and will recommend changes needed to break down the barriers to expansion.
What is something people don’t know about you?
In 1992, I was one of 15 people selected for a White House fellowship, which began under President George H.W. Bush. During the fellowship, I was assigned to the Defense Department, where I served as an assistant to the secretary of defense for special projects. There, I worked for some remarkable leaders, including Defense Secretaries Dick Cheney and William Perry and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell.
Key 2018 accomplishment?
Reopening our Wilmington plant was very gratifying. In only six months, our engineering and manufacturing teams had the plant ready for production with new equipment and advanced technology. During this process, National Gypsum created many new lucrative jobs at the plant.
What advice do you share with newcomers?
Come with your ideas and energy, and a willingness to serve our customers and be a contributor to our collaborative culture. Many come to us looking for a job, and they end up staying for a career.
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