Get to Know IMEC’s Board of Directors: Jim Nelson

Posted by Jordyn Shawhan on Aug 29, 2023 10:38:54 AM


Meet Jim Nelson, President and CEO of Parr Instrument Company and one of IMEC’s newest Board members. In a recent virtual interview, Nelson shared insights into his career before and after joining Parr, which has been manufacturing chemical reactors, pressure vessels, calorimeters, combustion vessels, and related equipment for lab use since 1899.

The Parr Legacy

The legacy of Parr Instrument Company stretches back an impressive 124 years, a fact that might surprise those unfamiliar with the name. Even more astonishing is the company's extensive university patronage, boasting clients among nearly every educational institution across the globe. Serving national laboratories, universities, private research facilities, and government research centers, Parr's reach is broad yet uniquely concentrated in the research sector. Nelson illuminated this phenomenon, saying, “The research world, we have found, is a very small world. The researchers around the world that are doing cutting edge stuff go to the same conferences, they learn from each other, they collaborate, etc.”

Unsurprisingly given its market, Parr Instrument Company, originally known as the Standard Calorimeter Company, was established by Professor Samuel Parr at the University of Illinois. While the company's headquarters have undergone slight transitions over the years – from Champaign to East Moline and finally to Moline – it has proudly embraced the Quad Cities as its home. Nelson's journey with Parr commenced in 2008 when he joined as Chief Financial Officer, marking 16 years of dedicated service this coming January.

Previously, Nelson had always been deeply rooted in the manufacturing sector. As he described it, "Different capacities over the years, but always in manufacturing.” Following his college graduation with a degree in industrial technology, Nelson designed forging tools until he transitioned into finance roles upon completion of his MBA. His experiences encompass small and large companies, both foreign and domestically owned. Dissatisfied with satellite office roles, Nelson sought positions where strategic decisions were crafted, a goal that ultimately led him to Parr. He elaborated, "I just had a desire to get somewhere the decisions were made."1516792713375

Being at the nexus of decision-making also provided Nelson ample opportunities to showcase his worth. Confronting diverse challenges at Parr, from workforce management to global dealer networks, Nelson not only embraced these issues but actively sought them out. He emphasized, "When there's a problem, there's an opportunity. Often, it's a chance to prove your mettle and demonstrate that you're the right person for the task."

Parr Instrument Company is in demand because, as Nelson puts it, “Chemistry is essentially in everything.” For example, chemistry, and therefore Parr’s catalogue of services, is needed to research innovative carbon utilization, price and quantify coal, measure the calorie intake of food, and much more.

The company's unique market presence is marked by a focus on chemical reactors and pressure vessels, constituting around 70% of their business, with calorimeters making up the remaining 30%. Impressively, 60% of their products are sought beyond U.S. borders.

The evolution of new products at Parr is often an organic process, sparked by client interactions. The company's aversion to growth for growth's sake favors meaningful development. This approach results in new products emerging from client needs, gradually becoming standard offerings as other researchers recognize their value.

Working in Illinois

Parr’s customer segment is as spread out geographically as it gets, but Moline is the company’s home. “Moline, IL is the location of all our manufacturing,” Nelson proudly stated, “[as well as] engineering, administration, product development, everything.”

The company recognizes that there are challenges to its location, but the benefits far outweigh them. “I think we stay here ultimately because of our employees. It’s not because our customers are necessarily here, because most of them are not. It’s for the workforce.”

On the topic of workforce, Nelson would say one of the keys to his success is his ability to work with people and to recognize what people have to contribute to the business. “I care about the people. I care about the workforce. I think that has served me well over the years.”

Joining the Board

Jim Nelson joined IMEC’s Board of Directors earlier this year, yet he already has a resume full of Board experience. What IMEC’s board offered Nelson, similar to what Parr offered him, is a new challenge. “I have served on many boards and many of them have been charitable,” Nelson said. “Parr has a good philosophy of giving, being a good partner in the community and giving back to the community, and I do as well.” This would explain Nelson’s work on the boards for United Way of the Quad City Area, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Mississippi Valley, Moline Rotary, and more.

Like the organizations above, IMEC is a nonprofit, but unlike the others, it serves the same industry Nelson has dedicate his career to. “This gave me an opportunity to give back more professionally rather than charitably.” On IMEC’s board, Nelson can tap into the full breadth of his manufacturing experience, from the technical side to sales and finance.

Parr's longstanding relationship with IMEC made joining the board an honor and a duty for Nelson. As he expressed, “When they approached me about it, I felt it was an honor to serve, and I thought it was my duty to serve as well.”

Learn more about IMEC's Board of Directors.

Jordyn Shawhan

Written by Jordyn Shawhan

Topics: illinois manufacturing, manufacturers, board of directors, Leadership, IMEC Illinois

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