We Remember Jim Olson
A Truly People-Centric Leader
Jim Olson’s 35-year career in the international food and beverage industry spanned North America, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. With his enviable operational pedigree at multinational brands including PepsiCo, Frito-Lay and E & J Gallo Winery, wherever he went, Jim remained a member of the special corps of business leaders who enthusiastically mentored and counselled people at every organizational level. Jim was people-centric to the core.
Following retirement, Jim continued to share his expertise through corporate board work, community service with United Way and as a Senior Consultant with Corporate Class Inc., while supporting his two college age sons.
An adept Board Director, Jim served on the corporate boards and key board-level committees of Maple Leaf Foods, Winn-Dixie Stores and the European Snack Food Association for a combined 16 years.
From my early days in management, I observed and experienced that when a company compromises its hiring or training practices, it never achieves superior performance levels. Consistently hiring people who fit the requirements of a given position and have the potential to grow with the business is critical. Then, orienting and training them thoroughly from the outset makes success almost inevitable. With this as a key part of a company’s culture, it shows everyone inside and outside the organization that you truly care about your people!
July 12, 1949 - May 3, 2018
Committed to Board Excellence
As a supply chain and board leadership best practices champion, Jim was a member of the National Association of Corporate Directors and recipient of NACD Fellowship, the highest echelon of corporate-director qualifications. As a Board Leadership Fellow, he was recognized for his expertise on corporate governance and commitment to excellence in the boardroom, notably, the importance of continued education to enhance boardroom skills.
With this experience, he identified the need for dedicated training to prepare corporate executives to interface with and present to their respective Boards of Directors. Equipped with these insights, at Corporate Class Inc., Jim spearheaded the concept and development of Board Presence Workshops. As the lead facilitator, he conducted training sessions for senior leaders in the USA, Canada, Europe and the Middle East.
Empowering Others & Cultivating Tomorrow’s Leaders
Jim was governed by the firm belief that connecting and engaging people had the potential to encourage dreams, empower lives and ultimately, cultivate tomorrow. He was an approachable and accessible mentor who willingly offered counsel and advice.
Jim’s legacy shows that a single person can make an enormous impact on organizations and the lives of others. Truly embodying the notion of executive presence, Jim’s contribution reminds us that, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Power is the ability to achieve purpose. Power is the ability to affect change.”
Working with Jim Olson was a privilege for all of us. Jim provided enormous support and an ongoing commitment to the growth of Corporate Class Inc. We will be forever grateful for his insightful mentorship, his valuable contribution to the success of our organization and for having touched our lives in so many meaningful ways.
Founder and President, Corporate Class Inc.
Remembering Our Friend
Remarks by Michael McCain
President and CEO, Maple Leaf Foods
A Service of Remembrance and Thanksgiving for the life of James Patrick Olson, May 28th, 2018
Let me begin by offering my deepest condolences to the family of Jim Olson; particularly his sons Nick and Ben, his brothers Mike, George and Tom, and his beloved wife, Diane. This sudden loss is beyond painful for you. Our thoughts and prayers have, and will be with you constantly.
This is a day we are not prepared for, and should not be happening. A tragic outcome gathers us today, yet even though that is true, our faith, our desire to see the goodness in life even when bad things happen, and our deep love and respect for Jim, brings us together. We are here to remember; to celebrate the extraordinary life of a great man; husband, father, brother, friend, community leader, our professional colleague.
I will begin my story with the acknowledgement that fate didn’t have me knowing Jim Olson for a lifetime. In fact, we first met as Board colleagues at Maple Leaf Foods only in 2011. But, our time together was special and uniquely intense, which tends to create deeper bonds.
First, I would highlight that during my initial personal encounter with Jim, it became quickly obvious that he knew potatoes! In a weird sort of way, that locked in an instant, almost cult like affinity. Jim Olson’s career had him spend considerable time in the field, with Frito Lay. Potato people speak in a special language! Second, Jim grew up in food plants. So did I, which also brings a sense of connectedness. Finally, Jim Olson joined the Board of Maple Leaf Foods at a time when we – as a team – had to lead through a transformational effort that was beyond difficult. It was the corporate equivalent of “going to war together and surviving” which creates its own kind of deeper personal bonds.
While only knowing Jim for 7 of his 69 years, I feel like it has been a lifetime and I came to know his character, his love of his family, his drive to lead, his professional acumen and his connection with the many thousands of people in his life.
A recap of Jim’s professional career demonstrates a man of great accomplishment. He graduated from the University of Minnesota as a Mechanical Engineer, the perfect foundation for an operational expert. His 35 years of experience in food and beverage supply chain operations both domestically and internationally with PepsiCo, covered the gamut of operational management, supply chain design and optimization, large-scale projects, organizational design or transformation, and all aspects of M&A activity. It was highlighted by his most recent roles as Vice President of Operations for Frito-Lay International, Vice President of Operations for E & J Gallo Winery and finally as Sr. Vice President of Operations for PepsiCo International with responsibilities managing 11,000 people, over 25 operating sites in 16 countries through Europe, the Middle East and Africa. After his retirement, Jim was committed to offering his vast experience to other organizations through Board roles and governance, beginning with Winn Dixie in the retail space, followed by his valued time at Maple Leaf Foods.
The real Jim Olson; however, is not illustrated through his extensive resume of what he accomplished. Rather, it was demonstrated by how he accomplished these things. The great management guru, Peter Drucker said, “Management is doing things right; Leadership is doing the right things.” Jim was a strident advocate for the core values of Maple Leaf Foods, built on the foundation of “Doing What’s Right.” He always did things right, but mostly he was this leader advocating doing the right things with a conviction to integrity and to people.
It truly was all, and only, about the people!
The depth of his experience was widely known and felt, and he was open in sharing his wisdom. But, wherever Jim went – on the factory floor, or around the Boardroom table – what made him uniquely impactful was the way he connected directly with the people he was surrounded by. I remember the first time walking a plant floor with him, seeing the ease at which he personally engaged with each individual he encountered. His large stature was matched only by his kind heart. Through all our formative work in difficult, complex initiatives, his contribution to engineering design matters was appreciated, but his concern for the culture and the people was more genuinely, and deeply valued. Around the Boardroom table, he was thoughtful, kind, generous, always sharing the depth of his experience in considered and appropriate ways. In our most difficult periods, he was the one in the room always “calm under fire.” And, to my management team Jim was a prolific coach and mentor, caring deeply for our success individually and collectively.
The contribution he made to the new and modern Maple Leaf Foods – through the most profoundly difficult journey any of us have ever experienced, will be remembered and valued for generations to come. I cannot adequately express how grateful I, my colleagues on the Maple Leaf Board of Directors and all of my management team are for having experienced the gift of his time with us.
For me personally, my business and professional life is more than just business. It’s an extension of family, an opportunity to contribute to society in constructive ways and personal friendships. This is what I remember most about my time with Jim. This is when our bonds with him really took hold. In the heat of our most difficult moments, Jim “lit up” when he had the opportunity to talk about his boys. Nick and Ben, his love and pride in each of you was palpable with every breath. Diane, the new love of his life, brought joy to everyone he shared it with. And, his interest in making a difference in the world – whether it be the United Way, or the Maple Leaf Center for Action in Food Security – inspired us all.
Friends, colleagues, family: A life taken so suddenly, so quickly, so prematurely is the most difficult to reconcile or process. It makes us feel cheated. It forces us to accept the fragility of our time here. It may even lead to us questioning our spirituality. I guess these feelings are normal in such a tragic outcome, and processing them will occur for each of us, in our own way. Today, we can only remember the life of an extraordinary human being, and his life well lived. We give thanks for that.
Jim Olson made a difference in the world, and that is worth celebrating.
On behalf of his colleagues and friends, I will say we loved and respected him, we appreciated him, we were grateful for him, we valued him, and we will deeply miss him.
This is not good-bye, Jim. Until we meet again!