Douglas Marshall “Dick” Nelson’s company, Brin Glass, provided architectural glass and services to many Twin Cities office buildings and skyways, including the IDS Center. He long credited his business successes to good partners and employees, and before he retired he helped set up an employee stock ownership plan to help pass on some of the wealth.
Nelson died in early May at the age of 74 from complications related to metastatic prostate cancer, surrounded by his tightly knit extended family.
Nelson was born in 1944 in Brainerd, the eighth of nine children of John and Veronica “Fronie” Nelson. His older siblings chose his nickname. They had already decided to call him Dick regardless of the given name their parents chose. All of his friends and family called him Dick, but business associates mainly knew him as Doug.
When he was 14, he started working at grocery stores, jobs he held until he graduated from college. He remained close to his first employer and mentor, Chuck Kraemer, and later in life established a college scholarship for students from his alma mater, Crosby-Ironton High School, in Kraemer’s name. Qualified applicants need to have worked part-time during school.
Nelson earned an accounting degree from St. Cloud State University in 1967 and that year joined the accounting firm then known as Lybrand, Ross Bros. and Montgomery. He left public accounting to become the chief financial officer at several private companies before he and fellow accountant Larry Waller purchased Brin Glass and Northwestern Glass in 1978.
An accountant by training, he was analytical and decisive but he was never shy to roll up his sleeves to pitch in across the company. “He took his time to analyze a problem and then he would move forward,” said Dave Hutton, a longtime friend from Lybrand. “And he would always help other people grow.”
The biggest part of Brin Glass’ succession plan as Nelson contemplated retirement was establishing an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) in 2013 for the non-unionized employees of the company. For the union employees, he helped establish a union pension fund, bonus program and health and wellness programs.
“Doug has always communicated and preached that the employees were his biggest asset,” said Bill Sullivan, current president of Brin Glass. “The ESOP was a way to acknowledge that and give back to the employees.” The company is now 70% employee-owned.
During Nelson’s 40 years as CEO of Brin, the company grew 15 to 16 times larger than the original two companies, and he added other business lines and extended the company to cities including Duluth, St. Cloud and Rochester.
His strong work ethic was evident but friends and family said he knew how to balance work with the other interests including swimming, playing cards, yard work, working on antique cars and boats and a weekly racquetball game with Hutton.
Curious and outgoing he enjoyed large gatherings and meeting people. He met his wife, Marilyn, in 1967 on the dance floor at a popular 3.2 bar and dance hall between Crosby and Ironton. Marilyn worked summers at the nearby Ruttger’s resort; they married in 1968 after she had graduated from St. Olaf.
Preceded in death by his parents and two brothers, he is survived by his wife, two children, three grandchildren, four brothers and two sisters. A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, with visitation at 10 a.m., at Westwood Lutheran Church in St. Louis Park. Burial services are Saturday at Lakewood Cemetery in Crosby.