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Close-up: John Nersesian

SDMAC president stresses open communication in business

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John Nersesian built a career based on developing relationships and strong communications. Now retired from North Island Credit Union, he is applying those same skills to his role as president of the San Diego Military Advisory Council.

He has four goals for SDMAC this year: He wants to grow membership, thereby increasing the budget; he wants to have more members involved in issue groups; he will make improved communications a priority; and he has vowed never to cut short a guest speaker.

Communications and relationships are the underlying thread connecting each of these goals. He wants to make sure all members know what the group is doing. And he wants to help people make connections.

"I tell new members, if you want to meet someone, let me know and I'll see if I can arrange an introduction," he said. "Or if there's something you want to know about the defense community, I can make arrangements to introduce (you to the right people)."

His years of experience in the financial sector taught him the importance of open communication.

Nersesian remembers one client from the 1970s who started a business selling apparel. It was a risky investment, but the owner instilled confidence in his lenders through open, regular communication to show where his costs were going up, how sales were doing and where he saw those numbers going in the future.

"Good communications with whomever you are working is very important," he said. "Just let them know. What you don't like is surprises. You don't want to read about it in the newspaper. You don't want to hear it through a second party.

John Nersesian is president of the San Diego Military Advisory Council. Photo: J. Kat Woronowicz

"It's like with your kids. Tell me now or I will find out later."

While working with San Diego Trust, Nersesian's relationship and communication with a client allowed him to continue providing a line of credit even when a business was taking a loss while transitioning to a new product design.

"You established a relationship, and that's pretty much how you did business," he said. "It's still a way to do business."

That's how he does businesses with SDMAC.

By publicizing the group's efforts through a quarterly report and working to instate a more in-depth annual report, Nersesian hopes to spread the word about what the group is doing both behind the scenes and in the public eye. As people learn more about the organization, membership likely will increase.

A group of six founded SDMAC in 2004 to serve as a bridge between the community and the military. Since then, the group has served as a voice for the military on politically charged issues on which local military leaders cannot necessarily become vocal.

Most recently, the group sent letters to Sacramento regarding a sales tax imposed on base thrift store purchases. And during the November elections, the group fought Proposition B -- a plan to build a deck over the 10th Avenue Marine Terminal for commercial and public use.

It also serves as a tool for the defense industry to connect to the military and San Diego community.

Guest speakers at the monthly breakfast meetings provide the group with relevant, timely information that impact those who work with the military.

For the defense industry, it's a chance to hear first-hand what the client needs.

Despite the economic downturn affecting some industries, the defense industry is surviving. And businesses need to know what products and services are needed.

Nersesian said the defense industry will stay strong through 2009. And even if the defense budget ultimately is cut for 2010, there is enough infrastructure in San Diego that defense-related jobs and contracts should continue, he said.

"From a defense stand point, there's $25 billion of basic infrastructure in San Diego," he said. "You can tweak that up and down, but that's still a pretty solid base."

And with another aircraft carrier coming to San Diego, the local economy will get an addition $1 million boost each month. A boost that could be vitally important while the economy recovers.

Nersesian has seen the economy go through cycles of good and bad years, but this one has been somewhat surprising. He said he thought we had reached the bottom of this downturn at the end of 2008. But now it looks like it will be a longer cycle.

"If you look at this two-year window, or even now, it doesn't fit anything I've seen in the last 38 years," Nersesian said.

But on the bright side, he is confident the economy will recover and hopeful people will learn from the experience.

"We'll get through it," he said. "But I think it shows the irresponsibility of some people that figure somebody else is going to take care of it."

But the growing military presence in the greater San Diego area offers some stability and a constant flow of money.

"It's kind of inflation proof," he said. "It's a rock. That's why cities compete for aircraft carriers to come, or for SPAWAR to come."

And during his year as SDMAC president, he will continue to grow the organization and facilitate communication and a positive working relationship between the military and the community.

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