DAA Winner: Duane Nelles, ’66
Like many good economics and mathematics students, Duane Nelles was attracted to the world of accounting, where he quickly built a very successful career. So it may have surprised some when he turned to venture capitalism, but the move proved to be beneficial both for Nelles and the little startup that caught his eye. Partially thanks to his investment, and his presence on its board for nearly a quarter century, the “little startup,” Qualcomm, has become a global leader in telecommunications, supporting most wireless technologies including cell phones with all their numerous applications.
Nelles’s accounting career began in 1968 in the Detroit office of what was then Coopers & Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers). After just four years, he opened Coopers & Lybrand’s San Diego office and became a partner in 1974. Over the next 14 years, Nelles worked with the firm’s California-based clients while directing several administrative operations in the San Diego office.
In 1988 Nelles left public accounting to become president of a private venture capital firm in La Jolla. In that role he made many venture capital investments including Qualcomm, now one of the largest companies in the world. He had further success in venture capital having served on numerous boards of directors including Price/Costco, Wescorp, and WFSI Financial. In addition to his position on Qualcomm’s board, he is currently a board member for American Assets Trust (a NYSE-listed real estate investment trust). Over the years Nelles has served on many boards of not- for-profit organizations, chairing the Salvation Army board in San Diego.
Despite the distance between San Diego and southern Michigan, Nelles continues to have an active interest in Albion College. He has underwritten several alumni events in the southern California region and is an informal adviser to President Donna Randall and a leading donor to the President’s Discretionary Fund. In spring 2010, Nelles and his wife, Gail, returned to Albion, where he divided his time between executive planning sessions and meetings with Gerstacker Institute students.
Nelles received an M.B.A. from the University of Michigan. He and Gail live in La Jolla, California and Sun Valley, Idaho, and have two sons and four grandchildren.