Oz Nelson, who brought UPS headquarters to Atlanta, dies

Oz Nelson, right, discussed the future of UPS as James Kelly, left, was preparing to replace Nelson as Chairman and CEO. Nelson, who moved the company from Connecticut, died from complications from COVID-19.



Oz Nelson, right, discussed the future of UPS as James Kelly, left, was preparing to replace Nelson as Chairman and CEO. Nelson, who moved the company from Connecticut, died from complications from COVID-19.

With “Oz” Nelson at the wheel, UPS Inc. made a gigantic delivery in 1991, moving its headquarters and 1,000 employees from Greenwich, Connecticut, to Atlanta.

That move, championed by Nelson, chairman and CEO of United Parcel Service from 1989 through 1996, was a coup for Georgia. More than 30 years later, it remains one of the biggest corporate relocations in state history.

Kent Charles “Oz” Nelson — who was also a dedicated leader with the Carter Center, United Way and other philanthropic organizations in Atlanta — died April 6 of complications from COVID-19, said Ann Starr, his wife of 25 years. He was 85.

Kent C. "Oz" Nelson, CEO of United Parcel Service from 1989 through 1986, brought the international corporation to Atlanta.

Credit: Photograph courtesy of Ann Starr

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Credit: Photograph courtesy of Ann Starr

Until it was announced in 1991 that Atlanta had beaten out Dallas and Baltimore for the new headquarters, the most Georgians knew about the secretive negotiations was that the state was vying for a multibillion-dollar company with about 200,000 employees.

Nelson is credited with transforming UPS into a global logistic powerhouse by championing innovative technologies, including real-time package tracking and handheld scanning devices that its drivers still use today.

In 1990, the company had 245,000 employees, was delivering 2.9 billion packages a year, and had revenues of $13.6 billion. In 2022, the company have revenues of more than $100 billion, 500,000 employees, and customers in more than 220 countries and territories, according to UPS.

The headquarters ended up in Sandy Springs.

Rivaling his business acumen was his commitment to giving back to the community, said Douglas Nelson, a longtime friend and the former longtime CEO of the nonprofit Annie Casey Foundation.

“He was a pretty extraordinary man, a great man who was too modest to let anybody recognize him as such,” said Nelson, who is no relation to Oz Nelson. “He had a leadership capability both in the business and in the philanthropic sectors that was second to none in my life.”

He helped build and later chaired the board of the Casey Foundation, which is dedicated to helping the underserved, and he took leadership roles for well-known nonprofits including the CDC Foundation, the United Way of America and the Carter Center.

At the Carter Center, he stepped in as chairman of the Board of Trustees after President Jimmy Carter stepped away from the position.

Jason Carter, who succeeded Oz Nelson as board chair, said Nelson gave 20 years to the center, helping make it “the strong organization it is today.”

“He was a great friend to me personally and to all of us at the center,” the former president’s grandson said. “And he was a great friend to the people we serve.”

Douglas Nelson said: “Oz really helped the Carter Center get ready for a strong future without President Carter at the center of everything.”

Ann Starr said his commitment to community work accelerated once Nelson retired.

“He just believed that you really need to invest in the community. He believed in investing in people. That’s where you put your energy and your resources, then you are going to have stronger people and stronger community,” she said.

Oz Nelson and former First Lady Rosalind Carter in 2004 at The Carter Center. They were attending a meeting of the InterAmerican Conference on Onchocerciasis (IACO). Onchocerciasis is also known as river blindness and is one of the public health issues that President Carter and Nelson helped champion as leaders at The Carter Center.

Credit: Special to the AJC

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Credit: Special to the AJC

Milton J. Little Jr., president and CEO of United Way of Greater Atlanta, said Oz Nelson raised more than $60 million for the organization in 1995 as its campaign chair.

“Leading a Fortune 500 company, Oz was a busy man,” Little said. “But he always found the time to give back by championing programs that have made a lasting impact on our work — and his legacy.”

Nelson was born Aug. 13, 1937, in Kokomo, Indiana. He received his degree in business administration from Ball State University in nearby Muncie. He served as a member of the Ball State University Foundation board for 12 years and was an active member of the Miller College Dean’s Executive Advisory Board since its inception in 2003.

A logistics and supply chain management center on the campus bears his name.

Geoffrey Mearns, Ball State’s president, said the university’s mission is to enable its students to go on to have fulfilling careers and meaningful lives.

“Oz Nelson was certainly the personification of that,” he said. “He used his talent and commitment to improve the lives of his coworkers at UPS…and most importantly to do good to serve the community in all the many different ways he served various nonprofit organizations.”

Starr, the former director of a nonprofit treatment center for teens known as The Bridge, said: “He really wanted people to thrive. And once he committed to something, he got on board and he didn’t get off.”

Nelson is survived by his wife, two sons, a stepdaughter, six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.