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Bob Lind, Published August 04 2013

Neighbors: Building bridges for business

It was while they were vacationing in 1992 that Mel Nelson, his wife and their kids first drove across the 5-mile-long Mackinac Bridge linking the state of Michigan’s two peninsulas.

That bridge, the third longest suspension bridge in the world, made a powerful impression on Mel.

It and other bridges became a metaphor he’s turned into a key factor in his business of helping companies’ leadership improve their operations.

Mel, of West Fargo, says that a bridge’s function “is to get you from here to there.” And he, with the assistance of the bridge metaphor, seeks to help businesses do the same.

Four key systems

The Mackinac Bridge, and any suspension bridge, Mel says, has four major systems: footings, towers, suspension cables and spans.

In the business world, they equate this way, he says: Firm footings are the integrity, trustworthiness and honesty of the firm’s leadership.

The towers represent the relationship among leaders and the firm’s teams.

The suspension cables of leadership support the spans, which is the leadership’s strategy.

Mel, through his business, Executive Management Systems Inc., Fargo, uses that metaphor in its mission which, he says, is “developing CEOs.”

Canada to Fargo

Mel was born in Saskatchewan, Canada to the Rev. Stanley and Esther Nelson.

The family moved to Alberta, Canada, when Mel was 5. When he was 10, the family moved to Fargo, where his father became pastor of Bethel Evangelical Free Church.

Mel graduated from Fargo Central High School in 1965 and from North Dakota State University with an electrical engineering degree in 1969.

He worked for Northern Bell Telephone in Fargo, then attended Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Ill., for two quarters.

Then, it was on to Grand Forks, where he worked for the Minnkota Power Co. for 29 years, becoming its vice president of marketing and public relations.

He returned to Fargo in 2000, worked for IdeaOne Telecom, then began his business in 2002.

Meanwhile, there was a young woman, Cia Nelson, living in the Abercrombie-Christine, N.D., area. Her family homestead near Christine dates from 1869. Her parents, Donald and Teresa Nelson, ran a café in Abercrombie for about 20 years. Yes, she and Mel met. And yes, in 1969, Miss Nelson became Mrs. Nelson.

And now, Mel and Cia have bridges to future generations: their four children and seven grandchildren.

Getting kids to school

Mel sees the Mackinac Bridge as “a very constructive metaphor, a model, for businesses and life.”

One example: 75 percent of the bridge is beneath the water. But it’s of key importance to the entire structure. And that, he says, relates to values and culture in life.

Bridges are such a factor in Mel’s philosophy that he’s made his motto, “Building bridges to the future,” his registered trademark. He’s also written a book, “Building Bridges: Today’s Decisions – Gateway to Your Future.”

And now, this man is helping build another bridge. A real one. In Nicaragua.

One of the Fargo companies Mel worked with was Wanzek Construction, headed by Jon Wanzek.

That company built more than 100 bridges when it was headed by Jon’s father, Leo Wanzek.

Well, Jon’s daughter, Anna, attended Notre Dame University, majoring in civil engineering.

Anna, knowing of her father’s friendship with Mel and of Mel’s interest in bridges, wrote to Mel to tell him of a project a group of Notre Dame students has undertaken: that of building a bridge in Nicaragua this summer.

It’s of importance, Anna told Mel, because it provides people with a way out when their area has severe flooding, which occurs often. It also will provide access to school during the rainy season for more than 70 children.

The project hit home for Mel. So, he sent the group $1,000.

He tells of this not to seek praise, he emphasizes, but only to demonstrate his great interest in bridges, both the real kind and the metaphorical kind – of businesses and of life.

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, N.D. 58107; fax it to 241-5487; or email blind@forumcomm.com