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RW Nelson

R.W. Nelson

Chairman of the Board

In 1961, when he founded a company to develop innovative agricultural products, R.W. Nelson couldn’t have imagined that Kemin Industries would one day touch more than 3.8 billion lives worldwide every day with unrivaled expertise at the molecular level.

Kemin Industries was founded in 1961 on a shoestring budget in a vacant wool barn on Des Moines’ east side. With five children to feed, clothe, and educate, R.W. and his wife, Mary, invested $10,000 in their savings account in the business, offering two product lines – silage preservatives and feed flavors – to be sold throughout the Midwest. With support from both sides of their extended families, the Nelsons and the Kellehers, Mary and R.W. persevered in growing their business and overcoming obstacles every start up can face.  The business grew quickly in the US and expanded globally with exports to overseas markets by the end of the decade. 

Kemin has quadrupled in growth since its humble beginnings more than six decades ago, now manufacturing and distributing over 500 specialty ingredients.  Using a cross platform molecular strategy to introduce innovative products in multiple markets, the company’s products serve multiple markets including animal nutrition and health, human nutrition and health pet food and rendering technologies, food technologies, crop technologies, textile auxiliaries, aquaculture, animal vaccines, biofuels and biocides. More than 40% percent of Kemin’s products come from botanical sources, with early success using molecules from marigolds, spearmint, and potatoes. Other unique technologies have harnessed the power of chemistry and biology to manufacture flagship across all of Kemin’s markets.

R.W. continues to participate in Kemin activities as Chairman, attending board meetings and always offering well honed advice to move Kemin’s business forward.

Throughout the company’s history, R.W. has guided Kemin’s growth with a deft and pragmatic hand, allowing the company to expand domestically and internationally with very little financial risk. Stalwart business practices, prudent financial decisions, and always an eye on customer needs and pain points, fuels Kemin’s growth.  The founding values of hard work, integrity, and a commitment to improve and sustainably transform lives continues to guide all Kemin business units. Together, Kemin colleagues share a commitment to improving the health and nutrition of the world in the most sustainable way possible.

R.W. holds four patents and has been recognized worldwide for his innovations. He received citations from two presidents:  the President’s “E” Certificate for Exports from President Nixon in 1971, and the President’s “E” Star Award for Excellence in Export from President Carter in 1978. R.W. also received the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Export Award in 1972, the State of Iowa Economic Impact Award in 1987, the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur Achievement Iowa Award in 1991 and the Iowa Biotechnology Association’s Entrepreneur Achievement Biotechnology Award in 2004. He and Mary were inducted into the Iowa Business Hall of Fame in 2006.

R.W. has served on more than a dozen boards and committees for industry trade groups, banks, the American Institute of Entrepreneurs, Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, Drake University, private primary and secondary schools in the Des Moines Diocese and the Greater Des Moines Committee, a group of business luminaries founded in 1907 to share information about important topics in the community and nation. He is a member of the American Chemical Society and the American Feed Industry Association.

A graduate of Dowling Catholic High School, R.W. received Bachelor of Arts degrees in biology and chemistry from Drake University. He served in the U.S. Army Air Corps from 1945 to 1947, and he was honorably discharged as a corporal. He earned service ribbons while deployed to the Philippines at the close of World War II.

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