David Nelson, 6th Ever SIGMA Distinguished Statesman
November 10, 2022
Jed Brewer had the privilege of surprising and presenting David Nelson with SIGMA’s Distinguished Statesman Award in Hollywood, CA at the 2022 SIGMA Annual Meeting. Long-time Study Group members Tom Gresham and Tom Robinson also participated in the presentation, along with SIGMA CEO Ryan McNutt.
David is only the sixth ever recipient of the award in SIGMAs storied history. The Distinguished Statesman Award is given to people who have made a significant life-long contribution to the industry.
We are grateful for David’s leadership and servant heart and are honored to be associated with him. Below is the message Jed Brewer shared during the presentation.
“I’m honored to play a part in celebrating SIGMA’s 6th ever Distinguished Statesman.
I first met our Distinguished Statesman when I was in college. He was my
intermediate macroeconomics professor. He taught me about government
spending, interest rates, and how certain economic policies can fuel inflation –
things quite relevant for today… wouldn’t you say? He and I shared a
common Christian faith, and I remember him speaking at a university gathering I
attended where he shared his personal life journey and the impact God had had
on him. I was impressed to see an accomplished, “distinguished” professor be so
real and transparent… so human.
Little did I know he had a side hustle business helping petroleum marketers share
ideas and benchmark their financial data. His goal was to help them be better
business operators, people, and friends. I was cheap college labor and he hired
me after my junior year to play with the data his members provided him. Under
his guidance, I put together national averages looking at industry performance
and examined the characteristics of top performers. It was my first exposure to
the petroleum marketing industry. I went on to graduate school based on his
encouragement and a very kind letter of recommendation he wrote for me. I
wrote my dissertation on the petroleum marketing industry, in part, based off
some of the data he provided me.
Over the 20+ years since then, our relationship has evolved. After doing other
things, I left academia and became the first full-time employee of his company.
For me, he’s not only served as a boss, but also as a mentor, a support, and most
importantly my friend. He’s been by my side through some of my own personal
achievements and also some immensely challenging times. Today, I’m fortunate
to also be one of his business partners. He’s one of them most influential people
in my life and I can genuinely say my life is better because of him… and I’m
But what is truly unique about this Distinguished Statesman is I’m only a small one
of the many people he has influenced. At the university he has mentored
countless students helping them learn more about themselves, their dreams, and
the world around them. To list just a few things, he’s:
- published numerous academic papers
- served on multiple university boards
- chaired the university economics department for over ten years
- performed economic loss and expert witness testimony
This year, he is retiring from over 40 years of teaching and service to the
university and academic community. On the personal front, he has supported
hundreds of children in some of the poorest regions of our world. He and his wife,
Lynne, have a philanthropic motto: to find human suffering, anywhere and
everyone… and help alleviate it.
For some, that would be an impressive life’s resume. But for our Distinguished
Statesman it is only part of the story.
He’s also benefited our industry greatly. As a young academic he started doing
business valuations studies for petroleum marketers. He saw a need, through
some of those relationships, for lonely-at-the-top business leaders to have a peer
group with whom to share, benchmark, and develop genuine friendships. As a
result, in 1985, he started his first petroleum marketer’s Study Group. Today the
Study Groups business has grown to over 600 members from 300 unique
companies spread across 65 groups. Members have operations in all 50 states
and in Canada and Mexico. On the fuel side, Study Group members collectively
sell over 15% of the gas, diesel, and lubricants that are consumed in the US. And
they collectively operate thousands of convenience stores.
On the data side, he took some of the early work I did for him, made it better…
much, much better… and created what is now the industry standard for
petroleum marketer benchmarking. Indeed, his database is the platform that
powers the NACS State of the Industry for convenience stores. He’s offered his
economic and industry knowledge as a speaker at numerous industry associations
and events, including SIGMA. And he’s done all this while staying humble and
Ben Scellick and I sat down about a year ago and put together Study Groups’
vision statement. As part of the process we developed the Values that described
who we wanted our company to be.. what we wanted to imbue. It was pretty
easy. The Values we wanted to imbue, were the Values he imbued. Who we
aspired to be were what he is. So as I read these Values, I want you to think of
- Servant Attitude: our attitude is in serving others with humility, concerned
they grow as people and become more of who they were created to be,
becoming healthier, wiser, and themselves better able to help others
- Have Integrity: we act with honesty and fairness in our interactions with
others; our actions and words match… I remember, a group of petroleum
marketers who were serving on an industry board. They were talking about
integrity and what it looked like to them. One marketer raised his hand and
said: “When I think of integrity, I think of… [him – our statesman].”
- Act Professionally: we are skilled, reliable, timely, courteous, trustworthy,
always learning and growing, and present ourselves in a precise and
- Respect: we understand that all people are important – all people are
created in the image of God – and should be treated accordingly… whether
that is the poorest child in Africa or the CEO of a petroleum marketing
- Ensure Win/Win: our agreements are mutually beneficial for all parties
involved… I remember him saying to me almost 15 years ago: “Jed, people
enter into business relationships because both parties find the value
received greater than the cost incurred.” I took the statement to imply:
“Jed, do your best to deliver great value to our members… and please don’t
wipe us out along the way.”
For those who know him, he’s creative, curious, and full of compassion. He’s a
leader of leaders… and a true Distinguished Statesman.