Eric Nyquist named a 2014 Education Foundation Distinguished Alumni

Published 4:00 pm Saturday, August 23, 2014

Born in Eau Claire, Wis., Eric Nyquist arrived in Albert Lea at the age of 2 when the Nyquist family settled into their new home on Meredith Road in 1974. Nyquist was the older of two boys to Gary and Kathy Nyquist, with his younger brother Andy joining the fun two years later in 1976.

Eric Nyquist was named a distinguished alumni from Albert Lea by the Education Foundation. — Provided

Eric Nyquist was named a distinguished alumni from Albert Lea by the Education Foundation. — Provided

Growing up in the Shoreland Heights area of Albert Lea was truly idyllic, as the neighborhood was packed with young families, with children running from yard to yard and streets filled with Big Wheels, bicycles and skateboards. Nyquist and Andy would fill their summer days and school year weekends with games of kick the can, wiffle ball, hide and seek and exploring the woods and water lands nearby. Once winter arrived it was all snow forts, king of the hill and snowball battles. Growing up in this neighbor-help-neighbor community had a huge impact on Nyquist, as the entire Shoreland Heights community felt like one big, safe backyard to him and his neighborhood playmates.

In addition to the neighborhood fun, Nyquist’s parents got him and his brother extremely involved in the community. Nyquist played sports year-round through the YMCA, was enthusiastically engaged in Albert Lea’s children’s theater program — which at the time was one of the strongest in Minnesota — and participated in numerous church activities at St. Theodore’s. The community theatre soon led to professional acting and modeling opportunities; Nyquist acted in numerous commercials and was on the cover of a nationwide Cheerios box.

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Joan Muschler and Anne Earhardt were significant influences during this time, creating a love for theatre and performance art in young Nyquist. As the professional opportunities grew, his dedicated parents would take days off work to take Nyquist to and from the Twin Cities-based auditions.

Nyquist attended Lakeview Elementary for K-5th grade. In addition to developing friendships there that stand to this day, one of Nyquist’s first major academic influences was his fifth grade teacher Larry Stenzel. Leading up to fifth grade, Nyquist had often chafed at routine structure, and as a result, left his teachers somewhat challenged with his behavior. Stenzel seemed to recognize Nyquist’s perceived issues as strengths and challenged Nyquist to pursue his passion and creativity rather than contain it. As a result, Nyquist threw himself into Stenzel’s challenges and became a voracious reader and dedicated student, preparing him well for the years ahead.

Nyquist’s middle school years included being the first class of Albert Lea students to spend an entire year as one class together in one school — that being the “6th grade only” Brookside Middle School. The bringing together of all 350 classmates in advance of junior high was a special year for Nyquist and his classmates. Seventh and eighth grade were at Southwest Junior High School, where he was active in year round sports, theatre, swing choir and student council.

Nyquist’s most memorable years happened during his time at Albert Lea High School. Nyquist was involved in a wide range of activities year round, from ninth grade through graduation in 1990. His favorite sport in high school was football, with Nyquist serving as co-captain of 1989 7-3 team. Nyquist was an all-conference linebacker, named team MVP by his teammates and was selected to play in the All-State game, representing the Outstate team. Later, during his graduate school years, Nyquist returned to Albert Lea and served as an assistant football coach with the 10th grade team for three years, coaching with Roger Zeman and Max Jeffrey.

Nyquist continued his love for theatre through his involvement with the tremendous high school program at that time. Nyquist’s greatest passion was the One-Act play competition in the winter. Under the direction of Gordon and Lilah Aas, Albert Lea was extremely competitive and Nyquist enjoyed being a part of this competition all four years, including advancing to the state competition his junior year.

Nyquist was also active in the Ahlahasa school newspaper and student council. As part of a nationally recognized journalism program, he was the variety editor for two years and served on student council all four years, being elected state student council vice president his senior year as well. These two activitieswere extremely gratifying to Nyquist, as Judy Knudtson and Roger Lonning were important mentors on these and other fronts. Nyquist learned to write efficiently and smartly from “Mrs. K” — another one of Nyquist’s major academic influences. His writing has served him well in his later education and professional career. Roger taught Nyquist the importance of caring, investing in people, and being kind.

Outside of school Nyquist’s life in Albert Lea continued to provide memories and strong foundations. As he grew older, his summers became more Fountain Lake oriented, as the community beach was packed virtually every summer day and the lake filled with boating activities. Some of Nyquist’s fondest memories growing up revolved around Fountain Lake and the experiences he shared with friends on and around it. During summers, he worked as a play park leader at Lakeview Park and Hayek Park, working with and coaching young kids just as he had enjoyed as a youth at Lakeview Park himself.

Throughout his upbringing, Nyquist benefitted from an amazing family. Both his parents were extremely involved in his life and were strong proponents of keeping him involved year-round in the many great opportunities Albert Lea offered through school and community organizations. His father Gary taught Nyquist the importance of choosing to be happy, that life is about happiness and happiness, that life is about happiness, and happiness is a choice no matter what the perceived cost. His mother Kathy instilled a deep drive in Nyquist in his pursuits, stressing the importance of putting your heart into what you are doing and being passionate about it. Despite the numerous year-round activities, his parents rarely missed a game, a play or a concert.

Equally influential in his life was his brother and best friend Andy. Andy graduated 4 years after Nyquist but they were nearly inseparable growing up. The support they provided each other helped each to grow into the individuals they wanted to become and the depth of their friendship molded Nyquist in many important ways. Most importantly, Andy was a great mentor to his brother when it came to generosity, kindness, and being a good person.

Similarly, Nyquist’s many best friends to this day are the same guys he grew up with in Albert Lea. To that end, every year Nyquist organizes a trip of nearly 20 ALHS grads, including his brother Andy, for a three-night trip to a different college football environment and game weekend. This year over 15 Albert Lea alums, spanning 10 graduating classes, will converge upon the state of Oregon for a doubleheader game weekend at Oregon State and then Oregon.

Best of all, Nyquist benefitted from the support of the community and the incredible bonds a community like Albert Lea can afford. The support of the community allowed Nyquist to succeed after he failed, to learn from his mistakes, to mature and grow in a smart manner and build upon the lessons learned. That community support helped guide Nyquist in the path ahead and provided him with a depth of experience upon which he could take the next steps in life.

After graduating in 1990, Nyquist attended Carleton College in Northfield, MN. Nyquist majored in international economics and graduated magna cum laude in 1994. While at Carleton, Nyquist was a member of student senate, led the internationally recognized Model UN program and was a member of the varsity football and lacrosse teams. It was also during this time that Nyquist first began sending out letters and placing calls to influential individuals in the professional sports community, using the network of Carleton alums to get as close to this industry as possible.

Upon his completion of Carleton studies in 1994, Nyquist continued his education at the University of Chicago, attending both the law school and the graduate school of business simultaneously. Nyquist had the good fortune of having a first year law advisor by the name of Barack Obama and his civil procedure instructor was Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan. At the business school Nyquist worked under several Nobel laureates in economics, graduating with high honors in analytical finance.

During his time in graduate school, in addition to working the Albert Lea’s tenth grade football team, Nyquist worked for the United States Soccer Federation as an unpaid intern for the better part of three years. Based in Chicago at the time, U.S. Soccer allowed Nyquist the opportunity to work with the women’s national team, helping to develop new business and shape the growth direction of women’s soccer. This experience provided Nyquist with incredible experience and connections in the field at an early age.

Fortunately, upon graduating with his J.D. and MBA in 1998, Nyquist was able to land his dream job with the National Football League in New York. At the NFL Nyquist worked as an analyst on the highest profile operating team, working alongside the Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and other senior NFL leaders as part of then League Development Vice President Roger Goodell’s four-person strategic operating team. That experience provided Nyquist with great learning experiences and relationships early in his career, working on key league economic and development issues, such as revenue sharing, stadium development and salary cap economics.

While at the NFL, Nyquist was recruited by the owner of the Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox, Jerry Reinsdorf, to join these two organizations as an executive vice president working directly for Reinsdorf. In this position, Nyquist oversaw new business ventures and worked to create greater operational synergy between the two separate operations. Among other accomplishments, Nyquist sold the naming rights to U.S. Cellular Field and worked with the State of Illinois to finance that new cash flow into dramatic renovations to the ballpark. He also helped launch a youth sports business comprising of 300 youth camps and a year-round youth training facility, all of which clothed in Bulls and White Sox branding.

But it was during this second stint in Chicago that Nyquist got his biggest break yet, meeting his wonderful wife Michele at — of all places — a White Sox game. Michele was a Chicago native, having lived in the city throughout her youth, college and graduate school days. Nyquist has always considered meeting Michele to be his luckiest break, as she is one of the kindest people on the planet with and unlimited heart for generosity and seeing the best in others. The couple married in 2004 and, shortly after the wedding, was faced with a strong recruiting pitch from NASCAR to join their operations at the Florida headquarters.

Nyquist joined NASCAR in 2005, taking charge of the multi-billion dollar sports’ strategic development and aggregate business planning functions. In this role, Nyquist oversees eight departments and reports directly to NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France. Working across the 2000+ employees, six office locations, hundreds of race teams, tracks and drivers, Nyquist’s main function is to develop and coordinate one game plan, as well as working to handle strategic projects, challenges and key issues. Nyquist developed and led NASCAR’s Industry Action Plan, an aggregate competition/business change plan that has been credited with bringing dramatic growth back to the sport in the wake of the 2008 recession. During his time at NASCAR, Nyquist has launched several key business lines, including NASCAR Digital, NASCAR Green and an entertainment marketing business in Los Angeles. The fruit of his and his colleagues’ labor was realized last summer as NASCAR brokered an $8 billion television rights agreement with NBC and FOX. On a more local basis, Nyquist led the NASCAR team in working with Growth Energy to bring AmNyquistan Ethanol into the sport, with E-15 fueling all NASCAR race teams since 2011, demonstrating the superiority of an E-15 blend.

Thanks to his many fortunate breaks and experiences, Nyquist has been recognized by Sports Business Journal to its “Forty Under 40” lists and has been a guest lecturer at over 30 graduate schools, including Harvard, Yale, Stanford, University of Virginia and Northwestern.

Nyquist currently resides in Lake Mary, Fla., with his wife Michele and their three children, Charlee, Hudson and Caleb. More than anything, Nyquist is proud of his family, something he attributes to the influence Albert Lea had and continues to have on him and his development. He learned firsthand the importance of family, loyalty and hard work growing up in Albert Lea and seeing it blossom with his family has been one of his greatest joys. And, like his parents, Nyquist makes whatever sacrifices needed to insure he makes attending every one of his children’s events possible.