Nicholas Nilest: Riding the Crest of a Wave in Corpus Christi in His Personal and Professional Life
By Rudy Arispe and Jessie Moore
Had he not read “On the Road” by American writer Jack Kerouac, it’s quite possible that Kentucky native Nicholas Nilest wouldn’t be living in Texas, as he has been for the past nine years, or, even more so, he wouldn’t be the CEO of a company, as he is today.
But taking a cue from Kerouac’s acclaimed 1957 novel in which the author and his friends travel across the United States in search of adventure, Nilest set out on his own road trip across the country in which serendipity had a hand in steering him to the shores of Corpus Christi.
“That book gave me this insatiable wanderlust and zest for life that had I not read that book I don’t think I would have ever left Kentucky or traveled to nine different cities before I ended up in Texas,” the self-professed bookhound said.
Interestingly, though, Nilest, who confesses that he’s actually an introvert, said he never imagined himself in a management position, let alone as a CEO of a hospital. But this is where fate intervened. Growing up he wasn’t the outgoing popular kid. As he’s moved into a leadership position, “my roles mandated presentations, conferences, public speaking, events, etc. At first, these things terrified me.”
After finishing graduate school at Bellarmine University in his hometown of Louisville, Ky., he planned to travel throughout the U.S. as a traveling physical therapist. “I worked in Little Rock, Dallas, Lexington, and Boston before deciding I wanted to live on an Island,” Nilest said. “After looking at a map, I saw South Padre Island at the tip of South Texas. I hopped in my car and left Boston and drove 35 hours down to South Padre Island. That was in 2009. I quickly realized the only things on SPI were hotels, bars, and restaurants, so there was zero work for a DPT (doctorate of physical therapy) there.”
After living on South Padre Island for a few months, Nilest moved to California but then headed to Laredo to work at an acute care hospital and eventually was promoted to director of therapy operations. He also started a therapy staffing agency in Laredo to service all local home health companies and provide physical therapy services for them. Four years later, he relocated to Corpus Christi where he was hired as chief operations officer of a hospital and in 2015, at age 29, he took the helm as CEO.
“At my age, the professional roles I have found myself in have been at an age not traditional for those positions,” he said, “so I have had to work hard to gain the respect of my peers and be successful.”
I love that Corpus Christi can be anything you want it to be
He credits much of his success today to always having his nose buried in a book, and, in addition to “On the Road,” Nilest was also influenced by “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. “He taught me about human nature, how to understand people, and how to be comfortable in any environment,” he said. “These two books were the two biggest influences on how I approach life every day.”
The biggest advice Nilest wants to give anyone trying to achieve their goals is to READ. “Anything and everything you can get your hands on that can teach you about interacting with people. Read about finance.”
Although his family is back home in Kentucky, Nilest doesn’t get lonely. He’s kept in good company with the constant interaction of his furry, four-legged companions, including two Great Danes: a 160-pound, 4-year-old, blue Dane named The Great Gatsby (Gatsby for short), and a 145-pound, 1-year-old, merle Dane named Winston Churchill (Church for short).
“They test my patience daily but are the most, gentle loving animals I have ever known,” he said. “They love the beach and ocean and any car ride they can sucker me into. I also have two adorable, little kitties named Jordan and Kat Wilson (also characters from The Great Gatsby). Any animal I have ever had has carried a literary name.”
Now that he’s firmly established in Corpus Christi, Nilest is quite happy with his adopted city. “I love that Corpus Christi can be anything you want it to be,” he said. “From the center of Corpus Christi, you can travel 20 minutes in any direction and be on a ranch, on a beach, on the water or the suburbs. Corpus has a little bit of everything if you have the enthusiasm and creativity to explore it.”
His journey continues as he follows his instinct and approachs new challenges and opportunities. He ends, “So, far that mentality has worked for me so I’ll keep on following my gut.”