CultureOur News May 31, 2023

Coldwell Banker Canada’s Canadian Ambassador Award Winner Honoured for Long-Lasting Service to Community 

For decades, Coldwell Banker Canada broker-owner William Nelson has used his second chance at life to help build a stronger community. For his service, Nelson has received the company’s prestigious Canadian Ambassador Award.  



“To be chosen over people who are equally qualified, and, I would suggest to you, more qualified to receive this award, is humbling,” said Nelson, 68, broker-owner of Coldwell Banker Canada WIN Realty in Mount Forest, Ont.  


“You look back for three or four decades, and you say to yourself, did I do what I did for the right motives? If it’s self-serving, then that’s the wrong motive. But if you always put other people ahead of yourself, the road to success might not be quick, but it’s steady, and it’s sure, and it’s sustainable.”  



“They thought I was dead” 


On February 9, 1972, on a section of Highway 6 outside of Mount Forest, it looked like Bill Nelson’s story was over and done before his teenaged years were. The 17-year-old was hit and run over by two vehicles, leaving him with a fractured neck, a broken knee, busted ribs and an arm almost nearly torn off. 


“They thought I was dead,” Nelson said.  


Nelson was rushed unconscious to the local Louise Marshall Hospital before being transferred to the Kitchener-Waterloo Hospital where he spent four months slowly recovering.  


He helped others recover, too. 


“I remember being asked by a young woman, a fellow patient across the hall who had been involved in an unrelated motor vehicle accident, why I thought I was still alive. I said that’s a good question, I don’t know. But I was given a second chance.” 


Volunteer resume  

Bill Nelson has used that second chance to try to answer that question. A commitment to serving others is the thread that runs through his volunteer resume, some of the highlights of which are:  


  • Lions Club (44 years and counting) 
  • Masonic Lodge (44 years and counting) 
  • Mount Forest Chamber of Commerce (39 years and counting) 
  • CFO for a political organization (35 years and counting) 
  • Business Improvement Area (20 years and still going) 
  • Louise Marshall Hospital Foundation (20 years) 
  • Big Brothers (6 years) 


Throw in years of service in all the executive positions at the community church, and, in William Irwin Nelson, the community of Mount Forest has not only a trusted realtor, but someone who shows up and puts his own skin in the game, literally.  


“Many times you’re at these meetings and it’s, maybe, the fourth meeting of the week, and the meeting was supposed to be only an hour and a half but when you look at your watch it’s already 10:30 pm, and, it’s, like, wow, do I really need this?” he said.  


His answer to that question is the same as that of other Coldwell Banker Canada owners, brokers, staff and agents who give their volunteer time to causes in their neighbourhoods and communities.  


“At the end of the day, you keep going because you feel you are making a positive contribution,” he said. “If we cannot make our world just a little bit better than it was when we entered it, maybe we didn’t do something right.”  


Making Coldwell Banker home 

Bill Nelson met Brian Padfield, the founder of the Coldwell Banker real estate brokerage, in 1976 when Nelson and his father purchased the rental building. Padfield offered him a job. Nelson turned him down, saying he wasn’t going to work for anyone else. They sat down and kept talking.  


“He did agree to sell me half of his insurance brokerage on the concession that I would work for him on the real estate side,” Nelson said. “Fair enough.”  


In 1978, Nelson graduated from the University of Waterloo with a Bachelor of Mathematics degree. He then finished his public accounting articling and went back home. 


Nelson got his real estate licence in 1979, bought Padfield out of the insurance brokerage in 1996 and then purchased the real estate brokerage in 2010.  


Looking for people who want to do what’s right 


Nelson has put his own service-first stamp on the office. When he hires for sales or administration positions, he’s looking for proficiency, yes, but not for the person who is “so goal-driven that they’re going to be just the best whatever.” Instead, he’s looking for the person who wants to do what’s right and who wants to help others. When he coaches, it’s the same vibe, especially when a problem is on the table. 


“If we’re talking about a problem, if a deal went south, say, if your client didn’t get the sale or purchase they wanted, you have to ask yourself did I do the best I could for that client?” he said.  


If the answer is yes, if the challenge was in the circumstances, then Nelson’s advice is to not beat yourself up. If the answer is no, then it’s okay to beat yourself up just a bit, and resolve to not make the same mistake twice, he said. 


That couple from Toronto 


A valuable lesson Nelson himself has learned is to not mistake what clients actually say for what clients might be trying to say. That learning came early in his career courtesy of a couple from Toronto who said they wanted to find a nice plot of land with “a babbling brook through the trees, that kind of place,” Nelson remembered.  


What happened next was borderline comedy. 


Eager to please, Nelson spent a day and a half driving criss-crossing the area, getting out to inspect properties on foot, donating his own blood to grow the local mosquito population. Tired, empty and itchy, he drove back to town, eyeing by complete chance a For Sale sign nailed to the front of an old church.  


“The confessional booths were still in it,” Nelson recalled. “Thirty-seven feet to the peak, sheets of paint, not wallpaper hanging from the ceiling, a little apartment at one end. It was right at the crest of a hill where truckers used their compression brakes coming down and grinded their gears going up. The steps encroached on municipal property. It had no land around it.” 


In passing, he mentioned the abandoned church to the couple.  


“They loved it,” he said. “They bought it that afternoon.”  


Sooooo, what happened to the babbling brook? 


It turned out what the couple from Toronto really wanted was something unique to enjoy on the weekends.  


“Now, that’s what I hadn’t identified, and, frankly, I don’t know if I ever could have identified it. Had I not made the comment about the church, they would have driven back to Toronto and who knows what they would have bought from whom?” said Nelson.  


From that episode he learned to never ignore what someone tells you but to be open to explore the boundaries a bit. Don’t head off in a direction to solve a problem before you know what the precise challenge is. 


“So, if you want a three-bedroom brick bungalow, why does it have to be brick? Is it a bungalow? Is it a need or a want? Let’s dissect things. Let’s take a little bit of time, let’s sit down, do some fact finding, listen and let people tell a story and listen to what they’re saying and what they’re not saying.”  



Coldwell Banker Canada WIN Realty won the Mount Forest Chamber of Commerce Corporate Citizen of the Year, 2022. Nelson himself was recognized as the Chamber’s Citizen of the Year in 2015. 


Still a top producer, barely 


Bill Nelson is a teacher but is still very much a doer.  


On the strength of his own book of business in 2022, he qualified for the Canadian President’s Elite and International President’s Circle designations. He is still the top producer in the brokerage, but his youngest son works with him and is gaining ground. 


“He’s getting close. He was really close last year. He may get me this year. I’m still the top producer, barely.”  


Coldwell Banker WIN Realty is home to key support staff, seven agents and one cube van. Nelson said that the group is highly motivated and doesn’t need to be “siss-boom-baahed” into shape. The brokerage sustains itself by what Nelson called collective knowledge.  


“Everyone here has bought into collective knowledge,” he said. “We’re all competing with each other, we don’t share commissions, we don’t share clients. But we all respect each other, we listen to each other, we’re candid, we listen to what’s going on with all the transactions, we all collectively work together so we all grow. We’re not a brokerage of lone wolves.”  



Bill Nelson, far right, with his brokerage staff and spouses at their 2021 Christmas party in Las Vegas. 


What a leader is 


Sharon Wenger joined Coldwell Banker WIN Realty in 2014 after working as an agent at another brokerage. She called it “the best decision of her life, made with no hesitation.” Wenger called Nelson the perfect example of what a leader is and does. 


“He is dedicated to his clients, he is devoted to his community and as a broker he supports and trusts the agents,” said Wenger, who is also a broker. “He pushes everyone to do better and be a better version of themselves.” 


Wenger said nowhere is it explicitly mentioned that working at Coldwell Banker WIN Realty means you devote time to community organizations. But everyone does. Because of Nelson’s example.  


“He talks the talks, and he walks the walk, and we’re with him,” said Wenger.  


Nelson also drives the cube van. Or, at least, keeps it running.  Since his early days with the brand, Nelson has made available, for clients—for free—a cube van that he leaves parked in public. He asks only that it be returned to the same location, with a full tank of gas and no dents.  


Bill Nelson: a man with a plan and a van. 


A life of service  


The Coldwell Banker Canada Canadian Ambassador Award is presented annually to an affiliated broker, owner, manager or sales representative who has best represented the Coldwell Banker brand values in Canada and who strives to make the world a better place.  


When Bill Nelson saw his name on this year’s plaque, he saw other names, figuratively, on the award, too.  He saw Jackie Ferrier’s name. Ferrier has been his “right-hand person” for 33 years. He saw Lee Nelson’s name, too. Lee has been his wife for 43 years and countless adventures. 


“Without the support of those two, I could not have fulfilled whatever level of service people credit me with,” said Nelson. “Their names are on the plaque, too.”  


Not his only recognition 


The Canadian Ambassador Award is the second major award for service Nelson has received in the last 12 months. The other one came with less fanfare. Nelson was at a social event in Mount Forest when a woman came up to him, told him he didn’t know who she was—and then thanked him for saving her mother’s life.  


“I don’t recall doing any heroic act,” Nelson responded.  


The woman explained that her mother was the teenaged woman across the hospital hall from young Bill Nelson all those years ago in the spring of 1972. When Nelson had recovered sufficiently from his own injuries, hospital staff asked if he would go and talk to the woman, who was a couple of years older than him and struggling psychologically after surviving her own vehicle crash in which a friend had died.  


Nelson recalled that “all she could picture in her mind’s eye was her friend who had died.” 


Whenever the nurses got him out of bed and wheeled him over, he would talk with her. “Just two kids talking about different things, just talking, two teenagers talking,” he recalled. 


In time, the woman who lost her friend would go on to tell her own daughter about the kindness of the banged-up kid across the hall who came to talk and listen.  


“She told me her mother had told her all her life that whatever I said to her somehow saved her life,” Nelson said, confessing that he does not remember what he actually said, drawing a lesson from that very fact.  


“Sometimes we have no idea about the consequences of our actions,” he said. “Sometimes we don’t know the profound effect we can all have on others when we try to serve.” 


Editor’s note: the picture at the top of the blog post shows William Irwin Nelson, centre, receiving the Coldwell Banker Canada Canadian Ambassador Award from Paul Abbott, VP, Franchise Development, Ontario, right, with Jackie Ferrier, left. The awards keep coming. On May 31, 2023, at Coldwell Banker Canada’s Gen Blue conference in Vancouver, Bill Nelson received a 30-year service award.