April 17, 2019 – Today marks Senior Vice President Kelly Nelson’s 24th year at Bristol Associates. Kelly joined Bristol in 1995 as an executive recruiter in the Hotels & Resorts industry. He became a key contributor in the development of the Travel/Tourism, Theme Park & Attractions, and Facilities & Concession Services practices that further expanded our Hospitality industry practice to what it is today.
He is a native of the Midwest and a proud alumnus of The University of Iowa as a member of the fraternity, Phi Gamma Delta. He is a past and/or current member of numerous professional associations, including AHLA, HSMA, SITE, MPI, USTOA, PATA, ASTA, CLIA, and IAAPA. Prior to Bristol Associates, Kelly served as Vice President Marketing, Lady Luck Gaming; Sr. Vice President Sales and Marketing at Hawaiian Airlines; and COO of The Carlson Travel Group.
We asked Kelly a series of questions to reflect on his career journey thus far.
How did you join Bristol Associates?
In 1994, I was serving as the Vice President of Marketing for Lady Luck Gaming Corporation, based in Las Vegas. We were opening casinos in Mississippi, Iowa, and Colorado, and Bristol Associates was our executive recruiting firm of choice. I met personally with the owner, Jim Bright, and he assisted me in filling numerous property level positions. Lady Luck reorganized in late 1994, and I suddenly found myself a candidate, as opposed to a client. Jim approached me several months later and asked if I would consider executive recruiting, and the rest was history.
What is your favorite memory working at Bristol Associates?
I think assisting in the recruiting, training, and mentoring of new employees joining the company, and in so doing – adding to the development of our corporate culture. Now, I actually report to one of these (no longer so) junior associates. Our President and current owner Ben Farber joined the organization in August of 2003, and now provides direction and leadership to the organization. I find it a very memorable accomplishment to assist young people in the growth of their careers.
What is your proudest accomplishment at Bristol Associates?
My proudest accomplishment came last year. It was a story of “coming full cycle”. I started my career directly after college, and my first managerial assignment was in the travel industry working as a Branch Manager for AAA Iowa World Travel. I was a working retail travel agent, and managed a small branch in Waterloo, Iowa. Last year, Bristol Associates was selected by the National American Automobile Association (AAA) to manage their search for a key executive to lead their entire travel enterprise. While it is just one of the many significant placements that I have made in the industry, I am particularly proud that I was able to give back to an organization that was so integral to my early career success.
In what ways has Bristol Associates changed from when you first started working for the company?
The obvious answer is technology and the progressive use of the internet as a recruiting tool. However, what may be more important is to reflect on is what has not changed at Bristol Associates. While trends and techniques have changed, we have never wavered from our steadfast commitment to ethical operation, quality, high touch customer service, and confidentiality for both clients and candidates.
In what ways have you changed since you started working at Bristol Associates?
I was virtually untrained in matters of technology – I did not even own a personal computer. Hard to imagine in retrospect. I had the other attributes for success in recruiting – transactional skills, the ability to negotiate, marketing skills, closing abilities, etc. But, without the training provided by Bristol, I would not have been able to keep up with the advance of technology.
What has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
I have always had a strong motivation to succeed. I had already worked in sales and had experience in dealing with rejection. I think principle to my success has been my ability to garner an understanding of the needs of the customer, and to find creative ways to fill that need. I have focused on the theory of “find the need and fill it” throughout my career.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Growing up as a kid, my father was a salesperson. It became apparent to me in life that I had the ability to influence, negotiate, and close. It was just a question of where to apply those skills in a future career. My interest in foreign travel and adventure drove me to the travel industry. Truly, my avocation became my vocation.
What hobbies do you do outside of work?
I am an avid international adventure traveler, recently returning from the Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. I have had the opportunity to travel extensively, visiting virtually all continents in the world. These adventures have included eight major trips to Africa. As a somewhat associated hobby, I am a collector of cartography (antique maps), and an amateur photographer. I generally find a way to get a round of golf in every week.
Congratulations Kelly for 24 years at Bristol Associates! Your strong dedication and commitment to the company and Hospitality industry has brought inspiration and life-changing career opportunities to many. We are fortunate to have an exemplary mentor like yourself on our team.
Bristol Associates, Inc. is an executive search firm with over 50 years of excellence in recruiting nationwide. Bristol specializes in recruiting for companies in the casino gaming, food manufacturing, hospital/healthcare, hotels/resorts, travel/tourism/attractions, facilities/concessions, and restaurant businesses.
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