Kent C. “Oz” Charles Nelson, former UPS Chairman dies
Kent Charles Nelson, retired Chairman and CEO of United Parcel Service, civic leader, community volunteer, and businessman died on April 6, 2023.
Born on August 14, 1937, in Kokomo, Indiana, he gained the nickname “Oz” in elementary school, which followed him through life. He was a 1955 graduate of Kokomo High School and graduated from Ball State University in 1959 with a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration. An active member of Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity, he was involved in all aspects of campus social life including intramural basketball and Varsity tennis.
Oz was an enthusiastic Ball State alum, and he was generous in sharing his financial resources, time, and business expertise by serving on numerous strategic development and educational committees. Ball State awarded him a Graduate of Distinction Award recognizing his contributions to Indiana and the world. Oz is quoted at that time as saying, “Through business classes, sports, service groups, and my fraternity at Ball State, I developed leadership and team-building skills that would last a lifetime.” Oz received an honorary doctorate from Ball State in 1994 and a President’s Medal of Distinction in 2011.
Immediately following graduation, Oz began his 37-year career with United Parcel Service as a Sales and Service representative in Indiana. His 37 continuous years of employment were interrupted only by six months of active duty with the U.S. Army Reserve at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. After 11 moves and promotions, he rose to Chairman and CEO and served in that position for the last 7 years of his career, continuing as a member of the UPS Board of Directors for an additional 5 years after retirement. Oz was energized by his work and his energy was contagious. He is credited with revolutionizing the logistics and supply chain industry, but his greatest source of satisfaction came from seeing the development and growth of the UPS employees.
Oz believed that investing in people was the surest way to build a strong workforce and toward that end, he identified and reinforced the very best qualities in his coworkers. He was approachable and friendly. Visitors to his office were greeted by a hearty welcome, an offer to sit and be comfortable, and an opportunity to talk about anything of concern with the full attention of the CEO. It was a skill that made him effective in both his professional and civic relationships.
He was a gifted mediator. He helped people air their differences of opinion safely and then led them to find solutions that would keep the process moving forward. He enjoyed the give-and-take of honest differences of opinion but enjoyed best the sense that compromise could allow everyone to come out as a winner.
Oz also believed that investing in people is essential for building strong communities. He was an active community leader before and after retirement. He served as Chairman of United Way of Tri-State New York and United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta. He chaired the Center for Disease Control Foundation Board of Directors, the Board of Directors of The Carter Center, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation; he was the Senior Advisor to National Families in Action. For seven years he co-chaired the Kentucky Educational Reform Committee. He chaired and co-chaired campaigns that raised over $2.2 billion dollars for public service, educational institutions, and a wide range of not-for-profit organizations.
Oz was awarded five honorary doctoral degrees which had special meaning given his passion for education. He was awarded the National Businessperson of the Year by Mast Publications, the Business Social Responsibility Award by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center, Education Reform Pioneer Award by the National Business Roundtable, the National Millennium Award for Business Education by the Freedom Foundation, and the SAM Lifetime Achievement Award from National Families in Action.
Oz was an all-weather fan of the Chicago Cubs. Nothing brought more happiness to his day than a Cubs win nor sorrow than a Cubs loss. Music was a source of pleasure throughout his life and seldom did a day pass when he was not humming a tune from the 1950s. At an early age, his mother gave him the choice of studying piano or drums. He chose drums and played in a high school dance band, in marching bands, drill teams, and the city orchestra. He was a member of Cherokee Town and Country Club where he played a modest game of golf with all the enthusiasm of a seasoned pro.
Oz was a warm, loving, generous, and happy man. He adored his grandchildren, and that adoration was returned. He led his family by example and sustained them with his good humor and his determination to see them thrive. One family member noted that Oz was “kind to his kin”. Whether a family member or a friend, the connection was real, and he could be counted on to get his shoulder under any
load. His loyalty was his trademark; once in, he was all in until the finish. He was unpretentious and grounded in things that mattered- as happy wearing plaid shirts as tuxedos.
Oz is survived by his first wife, Margaret Nelson, whom he married in 1960, and their two sons, Kurt and Reid, as well as Reid’s wife, Roxanne Nelson. He has six grandchildren: Christine Nelson Meyer and her husband Steve Meyer, Bryan Nelson and his wife Eleanor Nelson, Kelly Nelson, Kyle Nelson, Eric Nelson, and Aiden Coble. He has two great-grandchildren: Jake Meyer and Parker Meyer. Oz is also survived by his wife, Ann Starr, whom he married in 1998, and Ann’s daughter, Katherine Myers Coble, and her husband, John Coble.
Memorial gifts may be made to United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta or Atlanta Community Food Bank.