The CEO's CEO: Chuck Nelson Runs Things the Don James Way

Dan Raley

Under normal circumstances, Chuck Nelson heads up Seattle's Washington Athletic Club, which this president and CEO likens to a city within a city. 

It's a 20-story facility that caters to 11,000 members and requires 350 employees, and offers all of the service amenities, including a 109-room hotel.

Nelson runs the place like a coach, similar to legendary University of Washington football leader Don James, for whom he played as an All-American placekicker. Organization was the big thing handed down to him.

"With Don, you knew you were going to kick eight field goals at 5:17 on Tuesdays and Thursdays," he said. 

Nelson was interviewed for this story well in advance of the pandemic sweeping the world, which has forced the WAC, schools and other Seattle businesses to close until the outbreak is contained. 

While he didn't know what was coming at the time, the CEO eerily referenced another global downturn when describing the WAC's earliest beginnings in 1930.

"The building was built in the heart of the Depression to serve the social and fitness needs of a community that was reeling a bit," he said. 

Seattle will need the WAC more than ever whenever societal recovery begins to take shape again. Nelson, the CEO since 2012, will be at the forefront of the club's return to service in a leadership role. 

"It's a lot like being the mayor and keeping everyone happy," he said.

Prior to coming to the WAC, Nelson was the 86th player taken in the NFL draft and played five years of pro football for the Los Angeles Rams, Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings. For the latter team, he won a 12-person kicking competition. He came within a few plays of advancing to a Super Bowl.

Nelson entered the investment world after retiring from the NFL. He stayed close to the UW football program by becoming a steady presence on Husky TV and radio broadcasts for more than a decade and a  half.

"I got the chance to broadcast a 12-0 team and a chance to broadcast an 0-12 team," he said. "Not many people have done that."

Nelson headed up the Boeing Classic golf event, involving former PGA Tour players on a senior circuit for those 50 and older, as executive director before signing on with the WAC, where he had been a member himself since 1999.

"It's a great job," he said. "It's a chance to do something big and special."

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