Michael E. Nelson ’76 | University of Portland

Michael E. Nelson ’76

For Mike Nelson ’76, hard work has always been a family affair. In 1945, his late father co-founded a janitorial supplies company here in Portland while he was on leave from the Navy. As soon as Mike was old enough to have a license, he was hopping in the truck to make deliveries to Walter E. Nelson Co.’s longtime customers. Now Mike is the company’s CEO. University of Portland, as it turns out, was one of the company’s first customers. Mike continued his apprenticeship while he was a student at UP. Once classes were over, Mike was on the clock, a time he calls “a 90-hour workweek situation.” And being his father’s son, he loved it. During these years, Mike’s role in the business began to evolve. As an accounting major at UP, he was learning things that he could directly apply to the business. He started paying bills, doing accounting work before returning to his dorm room in Shipstad to hang out with his buddies in Alpha Kappa Psi—many of whom are still tight today—and finish his homework. Mike started to see how the business could grow. He encouraged his dad to buy property and to incorporate the business. “My professors were almost consultants,” Mike says. “What I learned I immediately put into practice.” And the business grew. Today, the Walter E. Nelson Company has about 1,800 employees, with 18 locations in the Pacific Northwest. What has stayed the same were many of the long-time customers relationships, UP among them. Mike has honored his relationship with UP not only through his leadership on the Board of Regents but also through his generosity. He is responsible for funding the new state-of-the-art space for University of Portland’s Facilities Services team. Mike and his wife, Arlette, are the proud parents of four children, one of whom graduated from UP’s School of Nursing & Health Innovations. In 2013, the Nelsons established the Walter E. Nelson Distinguished Professorship in the Pamplin School of Business. They have also generously supported academics and scholarships and established the School of Nursing Nelson Family Simulated Ambulatory Care Center. The value of hard work is still central to who he is. Mike will tell you that his grandmother was a chambermaid, and his grandfather was a longshoreman. He has never lost sight of his roots, the importance of humility, or the vision his father had for the business.