From Corporate Climber To Reverent Farmer: The Evolution of Bruce Nelson

Jul 1, 2019
  1. Long before he was CEO of Office Depot, Bruce Nelson was a young kid who had to work to earn his keep.

The boy who delivered newspapers and swept factory floors grew into a man who had the foresight to recognize changes in the office supply business and helped spearhead the merger between Office Depot and Viking Office Supply. But his rise to corporate success came at a price for his family.

His marriage withstood several major moves and plenty of international travel, but when his children reminisce about their childhood, very few of their memories include their father. Now, thanks to his daughter’s entrepreneurial dreams, Nelson has the chance to build new memories with his children.

Nelson lent his daughter money to purchase an old farmhouse on 10 acres of land in North Carolina, and now the family works side-by-side in the business enterprise Reverence Farms and Cafe. They maintain a family farm in Alamance County that boasts of passionately pastured animals where even the earthworms are revered.

Nelson joins host Frank Stasio to share his journey and newfound passion to grow and distribute healthy, whole food.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

On his upbringing and early penchant for running things:

I came from a pretty dysfunctional family. Life from that perspective was pretty difficult. But I always had this yearning, even as a kid, that one day I wanted to run something. I had no idea how I was going to do it — no concept of it — but I remember the dream of it. And started to work at a very young age. 

On his tough upbringing:

My father was an alcoholic. My father and mother were divorced when I was two, and he married an alcoholic. I lived with them most of the time. And it was not a pleasant environment. 

On how the track coach discovered a talent that would earn him a college scholarship:

I’m running across the field, and I remember a tap on my shoulder. And a man introduces himself … He says: I’m the track coach at Boise High School. Have you ever thought about running cross country in track? 

 

On his early days in the office supply business:

It was small, entrepreneurial businesses. Boise Cascade was one of the only big corporations on the selling side of it … There were no superstores. There was no Depot, Staples, Office Max. If you went into a town there was a local office supply store. 

On his plan when he became the CEO of Office Depot: 

Close some stores. Restructure. Focus on the office products U.S. delivery business. Continue to make the international business grow more profitably. Get a good team of people around me. Try and change the culture. That’s probably what I tried to do more than anything else at Office Depot. 

On joining his daughter in her dream to grow real food:

What we do is regenerative. It heals land. It raises good food, and about four years ago after traveling back and forth between Florida and North Carolina … I told my family: I’m all in.