A conversation with the fourth generation of young influencers at Les Olson Company
Top: Nick Olson, Sam Thaller, Caitlyn Steck, and Jesse Olson
For 63 years, Utah’s Les Olson Company has done what many might consider impossible, growing to over 250 employees while remaining a family–in every sense of the word–business.
We sat down with four members of the fourth generation of the company’s young influencers: Service Administration Supervisor Caitlyn Steck (29), Human Resources and Benefits Manager Jesse Olson (26), Account Executive Nick Olson (29), and Managed IT Solutions Account Executive Sam Thaller (27) to ask them what makes working at a family business so special.
“When I was really little, I was like, “˜Yes! I’m going to work with my mom and my grandpa!” recalled Caitlyn. “We were always around here growing up and got to see them in action.”
Caitlyn took advantage of Utah’s high school work-release program, which allows students with good grades to take time out of the school day to get work experience at companies like Les Olson Company. Nick and Jesse also participated in the program, although Nick got his start at an even younger age.
“When I was 13 or 14, I would come in during the summer and rebuild toner cartridges,” said Nick. “The thing I always looked forward to was going to lunch with my dad and grandpa. I would hear them talk about deals they were working on, and I got to listen to them on the phone talking with other sales reps and customers, working on deals. That was when it clicked that I wanted to go into sales, and I wanted to work at Les Olson company.”
Each of the young Olsons agrees that being part of such a successful family business helps with sales.
“Especially here in Utah,” said Nick, who worked his way up from sweeping floors in the warehouse to handling sales out of the Utah County office. “It’s a very tight-knit community and there’s a lot of family business here. I just left a call with a potential new customer who had come from a family business that used us in the past. I had a good conversation with her just on family businesses. I find that it’s a good talking point and here in Utah, it can tie you into other people and other businesses.”
Sam, who supports managed IT services sales, agreed. “I think it helps let people know that we care about the community too,” he said. “We’re not a large corporation that’s here to just do business and not give back. I’d say it’s huge. We do a lot of business with other family businesses as well, and that carries a lot of weight.”
Les Olson Company isn’t just a family business for the Olsons either. It’s such a popular place to work that employees who are not part of the Olson family often refer their family members for positions in the dealership.
“Right now, we have 49 different families inside of Les Olson Company,” said Jesse. “There are people who have brought their children to work here, their grandchildren, their nieces, their nephews. It’s insane how many employee referrals we get daily.”
This broad-reaching and tight-knit network confers a huge advantage in recruiting, but only if those family members can do the work. Les Olson is a company that’s happy to invest in training as long as new hires come in ready to learn and armed with a basic skill set, particularly “soft skills” like communication.
“We have a lot of interaction with customers such as figuring out contract questions they have and setting up new contracts,” said Caitlyn. “We look for some computer skills, and you don’t necessarily need to know the exact software we’re using, but rather the basic knowledge so we can build on that. In service, our number one thing is receiving those service calls from customers and doing everything we can to help get them up and running.”
Even with family connections to help someone get a foot in the door, it’s up to the individual to stand out.
“I just started working with a [young] sales assistant, whose aunt works for us, so that’s how he got referred,” said Nick. “A couple of things I like about him are that he already knows how to talk to people. It doesn’t seem like a forced conversation. I always like to see that they know how to conduct themselves and talk to people, and this is something that Troy [president, and third-generation Olson] always says. People buy from people whom they know, like, and trust.”
Nick’s sales assistant is only working part-time while he finishes college, but that’s plenty of time to make a good impression and demonstrate the skills that will set him up for career success.
“He’s a hard worker, and I don’t have to babysit him or tell him what to do,” noted Nick. “He’s really good about coming up with a plan, knowing what he’s going to do for the day, and involving me when he needs to involve me. I like the fact that we really get to work together as a team and it’s not just me showing him the ropes. He goes out and does his thing and reports to me at the end of the day. I try to help him with situations he doesn’t know how to handle. It works well because he’s a go-getter. The two most important things I like to see with new account executives coming in is hard work and knowing how to talk to people.”
These are the skills the company’s recruiting system seeks to identify.
“We set clear expectations that saying your family name allows you to apply here, but everything else has to be earned,” said Jesse, the firm’s HR & benefits manager. “Whoever you want to be, you’ve got to work hard for it and grow into your position.”
This readiness and commitment are crucial for an industry undergoing a massive transformation. When Les Olson Co. was first founded in 1956 and throughout most of its history, the business was all about equipment–carrying the most cutting-edge technology and providing the best service for it. That’s still mostly the case, but the emphasis has shifted from having physical hardware in-house to moving everything to the cloud and providing the reliable, responsive, tailored SaaS solutions that are Sam’s top priority.
“SaaS is becoming a huge component not only to our business but to just about every business out there,” said Sam. “We’ve got clients we support that utilize all cloud-based solutions. People don’t want to have on-premises hardware anymore. That’s an antiquated solution. People want to work from home, to be more mobile, more flexible. People don’t want to be tied to a location. It’s changing the industry.”
According to Caitlyn, these changes have carried over into the service department as well.
“In service, you’ll always see ebbs and flows with the amount of per-click billing that we’re doing, but definitely over the past few years you see that dip because companies are trying to go paperless,” she said. “That’s where Sam’s department has boosted a lot. We’re hearing, “˜Oh, we’re trying to go paperless,” or ‘more document efficiency,’ and it opens up ways for us to feed leads to the IT sector. We might see a little dip on the service billing side, but it’s balanced with growth on the managed service side.”
One department supporting another, even if it means a change to its metrics, is just the family support structure translated into a corporate setting. All the young Olsons agree that working with family makes it easier to give and ask for support, even on tough days.
“We certainly do have a culture of trying to help everyone succeed,” said Sam. “If somebody’s having a down day, maybe it’s just a quick answer or getting the right person involved that can turn something that might take hours into a really quick resolution.”
Nick agreed, “I can call my dad [Troy Olson] after work and say, “˜Hey, I was having a tough day,’ and he’s got a lot more experience than I do, and he can jump in and coach me the best way that he knows how to, or I can call Jesse’s dad. We just have a lot of support and it makes it easier to ask for help, knowing it’s family and you’re close with them already.”
Caitlyn, as a supervisor with direct reports, sees the company”™s emphasis on providing a supportive environment from both sides.
“One day you have a line of people needing to come in and get support from you,” she said. “And you’re trying to make sure that you’re giving everyone the full attention that they deserve and trying to work through one thing at a time with them. It can get overwhelming at times. You have to remember that hey, it doesn’t all have to be solved today, and if you don’t have the answer, we’ll find it together.”
It all goes back to Les Olson’s philosophy, as quoted by Jesse: “People are important, and you”™ve got to treat them that way.”
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