In their nearly five years in Oklahoma, Steve Olson, southern operations group president of The Boldt Co., and his wife, Laura, have become enthusiastic patrons of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, supporting its Prix de West art exhibit and Western Heritage Awards annual events.
The latter is “like the Academy Awards for all things western,” said Olson of the recent spring show. “Only there are no wardrobe malfunctions — only wholesome values coming from the stage.”
Olson said he's found Oklahoma offers the best of his former worlds — from the Midwestern values of his Illinois roots to the innovative, can-do western mindsets in California, where he started his 30-year career in construction.
For the 125-year-old, Appleton, Wis.-based Boldt, Olson oversees operations across a dozen southern states, which generate more than $100 million in annual revenues. Oklahoma, which has Boldt offices in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, accounts for 70 percent of that business, Olson said.
Past projects include the Bricktown ballpark and canal, the redesign of Will Rogers World Airport, expansion of Edmond's Nestle Purina plant, Oklahoma State University's new alumni center and architecture school, the University of Oklahoma's engineering college and high school renovations under the Oklahoma City MAPs (Metropolitan Area Projects) initiative.
The company has been asked to rebuild the tornado-ravaged Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, upon ratification by the school board.
From Boldt's 40,000-square-foot environmentally friendly “green” offices and warehouse at 101 W Hefner, Olson, 53, sat down with The Oklahoman to talk about his professional and personal life. This is an edited transcript:
Q: Tell us about your roots.
A: I grew up in Aurora, Ill., in northern Illinois. There were farmlands to the west of us; suburbs to the east. I was blessed to have parents — childhood sweethearts — who put family first. My dad, who holds a master's in music education and still lives in the area near my two younger sisters, once played the trumpet, cornet and French horn in a dance band. But after I was born, he — to be close to home — shifted to sales and customer service for All-Steel Inc. office furniture company, where he worked 35 years. My mother, who died two years ago, was a third-grade teacher and, after she had a family, a substitute teacher and a homework tutor for us. We spent many summer vacations in a log cabin on Lake Michigan in Wisconsin.
Q: What was your first professional job?
A: I was hired by one of the largest construction companies worldwide for which I worked seven and half years, moving from engineering into construction management. I was based in Irvine, Calif., but Laura and I spent two years in South Africa, where my company was modernizing a brewery. It was fascinating — the best experience of our lives. Through a church group, we became entrenched in the local culture and led discussions in our home for black South Africans. We traveled into the rugged, driest parts of the country to meet many of their families. I was honored to speak at a funeral, which traditionally is a two-day feast. We came to really understand both sides of the apartheid conflict.
Q: And next?
A: I worked in construction management for a handful of other companies. When we had kids, we moved back to Illinois to be close to my parents. Then we realized we could no longer stand the cold, and moved to Birmingham to raise our boys with the support of Laura's parents. After 13 years there, both boys completed high school in St. Louis, where I worked seven years for my most recent former employer, leaving as senior vice president to take the opportunity with Boldt in October 2008. I was attracted to Boldt because of, among other things, its focus on lean construction and elimination of waste, and its commitment to never stop improving.
Q: What's your leadership style?
A: It's based on four pillars: customers, exceeding their expectations largely through listening to them; employees/partners, developing the former and building relationships with the latter; disciplined execution; and profit. I take a servant leader approach, coming alongside people to understand their ideas and how I can help them grow. Among other things, successful leadership, I‘ve learned, takes a clear vision, understandable communications, consensus-building, development opportunities and an underlying emphasis on safety.