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San Diego
Saturday, May 18, 2024

Executive Profile: Andrew E. Nelson

Andrew E. Nelson made his foray into real estate in a less than conventional way.

In 1972, having returned from a combat mission in Vietnam, Nelson set off with a friend, some tools, and a few thousand dollars for Mammoth Lakes, where he designed and constructed a 2,500-square-foot circular house.

Two years later, the day after the final inspection of the house was complete, Nelson and his fianc & #233;e, Tracy Wilson, were married inside what would become their permanent summer home.

But with the house built, Nelson needed a job. When he returned to his native San Diego to settle down, Navy friends in the commercial real estate and financial management business tried to recruit him.

By this time, however, Nelson was hooked.

He said the experience of working on the house and his natural affinity for working with people drew him toward the residential real estate business.

In hindsight, he said serving in the Navy was the best possible preparation he could have had.

“You learn a lot in combat. You learn how to be a leader,” he said.

Within three years of coming to the Willis Allen Co.’s 12-person office on Wall Street in La Jolla as an associate, Nelson found himself at lunch with his boss, Willis Allen, and Allen’s two sons. The trio offered him the job of president and the 33-year-old Nelson accepted. Today, that company has grown into a dynamic and well-known force in the San Diego real estate market, having dealt successfully in the ’90s with rising interest rates and the loss of huge segments of the defense industry.

Under Nelson’s leadership, Willis Allen has grown from 45 salespeople in 1981 when he took the reins to 150 employees plus support staff, and has added six offices to support its corporate headquarters in La Jolla. He became the owner of the company in 1995.


Name: Andrew E. Nelson.

Title: President and chief executive officer.

Company: Willis Allen Co.

Industry involvement: Real estate brokerage.

Education: Bachelor of science in economics from UC Santa Barbara.

Birthplace and date: New York, Sept. 17, 1944 (raised in Del Mar).

Residence: La Jolla.

Family: Wife, Tracy; sons, Drew, 26, and Tim, 24; daughter, Gray, 22.


Essential philosophy about running a business in San Diego: Create trust with fellow employees and clientele by staying in touch and offering accurate insights. Reputation is paramount; it must be earned and then maintained. Keep a sense of humor in life.

Best way to keep a competitive edge as a San Diego Realtor: Hire only agents who hold themselves to the highest standards and support them so they can excel. Maintain personal and professional integrity always. Be first class.

The latest industry trend: Everybody wants to be in real estate, yet the truth is that 80 percent of the business is handled by 20 percent of the agents. It’s a very competitive industry.

Goals yet to be achieved: I’m confident I’ve already surpassed them.

Yardstick of success: Loyalty from staff (some have been with Willis Allen Co. for more than 20 years), from agents (again, several have been here 20-25 years) and from my clientele. Some clients have relied on my advice since 1974.


Best career decision: Joining the Navy and learning about life while a U.S. naval officer.

Toughest career decision: Letting nice people go because of a lack of production.

Missed opportunity: Not buying more real estate!

Mentor: Many different successful businesspeople have been an inspiration; I learn from as many people as possible. Willis Allen Sr. was a good friend, an astute businessman and a wonderful human being. His memory continues to inspire. Bob Lichter is certainly another great friend and mentor, from our shared experiences as naval officers through our respective leaderships of Burnham Co. and the Willis Allen Co.

I’ve been told I’m: A very nice person, easily trusted and genuine.


What I like best about my job: People. I love to meet and talk with people.

What I like least about my job: Having to “toot my own horn.” I prefer to let my accomplishments speak for themselves without my embellishment.

Pet peeve: Distrusting people, and those who distort the truth to further themselves.

Reason for getting into real estate business: I left the Navy because I didn’t want to wait 20 years to become an admiral. I like houses and enjoyed building a home in Mammoth Lakes and felt that with hard work and the independence of real estate sales I’d get to the top faster.

Most valuable lesson learned: In the end, it is your reputation to create and maintain.

Person I’d most like to meet: Abraham Lincoln.

Most-respected competitor: Many.

Greatest passions: My family. I also enjoy helping young people succeed.

If I had it to do all over, I’d: take more time to smell the roses as a younger entrepreneur.

What I’d be doing if I wasn’t doing this: Something with people.


Favorite quote: “Think where man’s glory most begins and ends and say my glory was I had such friends” , William Butler Yeats.

Favorite author: Tom Clancy.

Favorite status symbol: Great health.

Dream vacation spot: Here.

If I could have any car, truck, sport utility vehicle, boat or airplane in the world, it would be: F-4 Phantom.

Dream vacation spot outside of San Diego: Our recent trips to London and New Zealand have been great.

Favorite restaurant: La Valencia patio, George’s, the Coffee Cup/Mission Caf & #233; for lunch.

Favorite spot for a business meeting: Anywhere.

Favorite place to go in San Diego: My back yard.

If you had to leave San Diego, where would you move? Kauai, Hawaii; Whitefish, Mont.; Europe, either the South of France or London.


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