An Arkansas native is coming home from California to become president and CEO of one of Northwest Arkansas’ most influential nonprofits.
Nelson Peacock will take over the top job at Springdale-based Northwest Arkansas Council. He succeeds Mike Malone, who held the job since 2006 before resigning last September to take a job coordinating regional initiatives for brothers Steuart Walton and Tom Walton.
Peacock, 47, will officially begin in mid-July. He comes to the Council from California, where he’s worked since September 2014 as senior vice president of government relations for the California Office of the President. In that role he oversees all aspects of state and government relations for the 10 campuses, five academic medical centers and three national laboratories in the University of California System.
Peacock, a McCrory native, said he is looking forward to building on Northwest Arkansas’ “excellent track record” of success. He earned a bachelor’s degree and a law degree from the University of Arkansas, but hasn’t lived in the state in almost 20 years. He said the changes in that span are profound.
“When I left here, there weren’t the opportunities that there are now for folks to stay,” he said. “I think the [UA] has doubled in size since I left. There is more of a commonality of purpose in vision for the region to work together that I don’t think I felt when I left. You see pockets of development in every region, and my focus will be how do we harness that going forward.”
Partly because of his family’s connections to Bill and Hillary Clinton, Peacock went to Washington, D.C. in 1998 to work in the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs for the Department of Justice, and remained in the nation’s capital for nearly a decade. He was eventually appointed in 2009 by President Obama to lead the legislative affairs office of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, reporting to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.
That connection led Peacock to the West Coast. Napolitano resigned as Homeland Security head in 2013, and in September was named president of the University of California System.
In between those two jobs, Peacock was a vice president at Cornerstone Government Affairs in Maryland. He also spent time (2004-2009) as senior counsel to Senator Joe Biden, advising the future vice president on a variety of issues on the judiciary committee.
Peacock said one of his goals will be to innovate in the retail and logistics sector, two of the largest economic drivers in the region.
“I really want to focus on how those industries work with the UA on their research and how we can spin off companies out of those areas,” he said. “I know there’s a lot of activity there already, but that’s really something I would like to focus on is how we build upon that. That is something that the university does in California and done successfully, and hopefully something we can achieve here.”
Northwest Arkansas Council member Nick Hobbs, president of Dedicated Contract Services (DCS) at J.B. Hunt Transport Services, led the search committee in charge of identifying Malone’s successor. He said it wasn’t imperative to hire an Arkansas native, but that fact only added to Peacock’s attractiveness as a potential candidate.
“We wanted someone with political acumen, who’d been around the legislative process quite a bit,” Hobbs explained. “We also wanted someone who had led large teams and someone, ultimately, who would be passionate about Arkansas. When we looked at [Peacock’s] diverse skill set, from what he’d done in D.C., and what he had done on the West Coast, we thought it was a perfect fit on paper. When we brought him in and got to see his personality and his enthusiasm and his passion, he really stood out. He was well-prepared.”
Hobbs was one of several members of the Council’s search committee to attend Tuesday’s announcement. Others were Arvest Bank executive Lisa Ray, Laura Jacobs, associate vice chancellor and chief of staff for University of Arkansas Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz, Marshall Saviers, president of commercial real estate firm Sage Partners, and Scott Van Laningham, CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport.
Peacock is just third chief executive in the almost 30-year history of the Northwest Arkansas Council. Founded in 1990 by Sam Walton, Don Tyson, John Tyson, J.B. Hunt, Mark Simmons and a group of about 30 Northwest Arkansas business leaders, now-State Sen. Uvalde Lindsey was picked to be the organization’s first leader. When Lindsey retired in 2006, Malone relocated from Washington to his hometown of Fayetteville to work as the Council’s president and CEO.