• Ben Shenk

From Gold to Green: How the Nixon's Are Creating a New Legacy For Their Family and City.

Updated: Feb 14


What do you do after winning a Gold Medal?


History books are filled with Olympic greats who, after reaching the highest heights of their career on the podium, found themselves directionless. Their life and legacy had been built upon winning gold, and once it was done, what came next felt like it didn’t matter.


For Greg Nixon, however, what came next has mattered even more.


For Greg, being a 3X World Champion and 2X USA Champion was merely the beginning: only the first chapter in the broader legacy he is working to leave behind and the story he and his family are writing in the history books.


Homecoming

We first met Greg and his wife Nicole in 2017, shortly after they had moved back to New Orleans, where Greg grew up, having spent years in Los Angeles for Greg’s career as a professional athlete. Together, Greg and Nicole were enrolled in Launch NOLA’s Business Academy, pursuing a business idea birthed out of their experience in Los Angeles, launching a line of athletic and athleisure wear.


“We knew coming back to New Orleans that we wanted to create something that would solve a major problem and that would allow us to give back to the people of New Orleans. Entrepreneurship was the only clear way for us to start laying the foundations for that.” shared Greg.

The Nixons Pitch Their Athletic Wear Business in 2017

For the Nixons, Greg’s success as a professional athlete will always mark an incredible accomplishment, but it’s a legacy achieved and cemented in the past. “We know our two boys will love the medals and the stories from my time as an athlete, but we wanted to leave a more valuable asset for them. Our vision is to build something that they will grow up with, something that reaches beyond ourselves, and beyond the present.”


Over time, the Nixons’ entrepreneurial pursuits morphed and adapted to the needs and market specific to New Orleans.


Fresh Eyes to See, New Ways To Serve

“Moving back to New Orleans from Los Angeles, we had fresh eyes for the city” explains Nicole. “When we looked around, the need for affordable housing and homeownership in the black community was striking. And not just ‘quick fix’ construction, but strategic development that meets the need for the affordable housing crisis while also tapping into the socio-cultural identity that is unique to New Orleans. I began to research and we started discussing the concept of Urban Resilience as a mission for our future business.”


Through their involvement with Thrive, the Nixon’s found out about The Launch NOLA Green Academy, which equips landscapers and contractors with both business knowledge and technical stormwater management skills, allowing them to step confidently into the growing Green Infrastructure industry in the city.

Greg and son, "G3", at Launch NOLA Green Graduation

Months before hearing about the Green Academy, Greg was already forming a construction company. After learning more about the Green Academy, it was clear that Green Infrastructure would fit well within the Nixons’ vision. A few weeks later, Greg found himself among the other cohort members studying native plants, stormwater management interventions, and laying the foundation for a new extension for the Nixons’ business.


As a part of the Launch NOLA Green experience, Greg had the opportunity to get his hands dirty with on-the-job training through several “Build Days”. From start to finish, he read the plans, conducted concrete demolition, performed excavation, installed rain gardens, pavers, and french drains under the mentorship of the Fleurish Ecoscapes team for several New Orleans homeowners.

“The build day process was really big for me. Learning in class is great, but putting your hands to it is something different altogether,” said Greg, thinking back to the build days.


“When you’re out there in the heat, doing everything from breaking concrete to planting the plants, you get to see what really goes into it. The good, the bad, and the ugly. You learn to deal with it and plan for it.”


After the build days, the Nixons’ found themselves at a critical point in their journey.


They had the vision and the drive. They were equipped with the understanding of stormwater management and had the hands-on experience to do the jobs. All that was left was getting the first contract, to take the step from zero to one and begin laying the foundation for their new legacy.


As you might imagine, former Olympic athletes aim big. So the “step” from zero to one didn’t look like installing a new walkway for a neighbor or planting a small rain garden for a friend of the family. In fact, their first job was less of a step and more of a “great leap” into business.


The Leap From Zero To One

Opportunity came calling in the form of The Gentilly Community Adaptation Program (CAP), an initiative coordinated by the New Orleans Redevelopment Association (NORA) that provides grants of up to $25,000 for qualifying homeowners in the Gentilly neighborhood to received stormwater management retrofits at their home.


In order to ensure that as locals received Green Infrastructure that reduced flooding

on their property, local businesses were the ones doing the work, Launch NOLA Green had partnered intentionally with APTIM and J.C. Patin to connect Green Academy graduates to the contract opportunities. Greg and Nicole being two of them, were eager to get involved leading a crew.


They brought together a crew, put together a bid, and connected with funding partners across the city to obtain the mobilization funding necessary to launch into the first installation.


Nicole explains, “Being a part of the CAP was a big decision for our start-up construction company. We knew we had to be financially ready to pay up-front costs for all materials, equipment, and labor involved with every home we broke ground on. On top of this, we had to be financially ready to wait 30 to 45 days to be paid for our work. These variables keep many start-up minority companies from participating in city projects like the CAP. We did the work to qualify for the opportunity, but we were aware of the risk involved.”

But finally, in late 2019, the Nixon’s broke ground on their first job, officially launching Ubuntu Construction Company. The undertaking was massive. After a challenging first project, the end result was the removal of over 900 square feet of concrete, and the installation of a massive permeable driveway, rain garden, and permeable walkway, along with structural reinforcement added to the home’s carport.


“That first job really stretched us,” remarked Greg. “We wound up learning a lot through trial and error, and at times I could imagine for some people they’d be tempted to have walked away from it. But I am familiar with the work that it takes to be one of the best. As a World Champion, I was taught many great lessons. I have already had people doubt me and their perception of my abilities. I have already had to overcome being a beginner in my field. I knew we had to stay committed to the process and lean on those around us for support.”


Momentum Moving Forward

After that first job, the Nixon’s and their crew have broken ground on five installations as a part of the Gentilly CAP. With many more on the horizon.


“With every job, we understand the process better and better. We continue to remain a student to greatness and understand that we have a long way to go. We are excited about growing with each new project. Green Infrastructure is a critical part of a bigger picture that we want to paint as a company in Urban Resilience.


Ubuntu has already begun the process of working to expand their team. They are recruiting the people and streamlining the processes necessary to be ready to move from one installation immediately to the next.

“It’s been tremendous watching Greg and Nicole grow,” remarks Thrive New Orleans’ Executive Director, Chuck Morse.

“The tenacity that they bring with them is something you don’t see in many these days. That tenacity is what has propelled them to be on the forefront of the installation efforts in Gentilly. Walking alongside them, the level at which they lead their teams and manage the business, you would never imagine they only launched a few months ago.”


The Beginning of Something Greater Than Gold

Greg and Nicole are quick to assert that this is only the beginning. Their vision is to be more than just a company that installs residential stormwater management interventions. Their vision is to serve the community more deeply, more holistically, and more sustainably.


“Our aim is to take what we know and what we’re good at, and to use that to serve our city. We want to become leaders in this space, and we believe the best way is to stay committed to the process , keeping going when it is tempting to quit, serve others, and never give up on the vision that we have as a family business that will impact the world.”


They haven’t lost sight of their original vision either, and are still involved in the planning stages of incorporating alternative models of housing construction into their business. They see it as all part of the same mission: creating sustainable, resilient, and beautiful homes and neighborhoods in New Orleans, in which stormwater management will always play a crucial role.


As they pursue the next step toward their vision, it’s clear to see that Greg’s legacy of repeatedly winning Gold medals was big, but the legacy they’re creating today is even bigger.

Greg and Nicole stand in front of a Green Infrastructure Installation on an Ubuntu site.

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