WisBusiness: Love for Madison Brought Biz School's New Addition Back to UW
By Brian E. Clark
This is a Madison boomerang story. Times two.
Dan Olszewski is back in the state capital, for the second time. This time around, the Harvard MBA is heading the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship at the UW-Madison School of Business.
He replaced Larry Cox, who took a job last year at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.
“It’s good to be here,” said Olszewski (pronounced Ol-cheff-ski) in his nearly empty office after just starting his second week on the job. “I’ve always wanted to be part of this university, ever since I went to school here as an undergraduate.”
Olszewski, 41, grew up on a beef farm near Withee, population 410, in north central Wisconsin. He graduated from UW-Madison in 1987 with distinction, earning a degree in economics and computer science.
He also took a few business classes, met his wife here, “fell in love with the place and had the feeling that I would like to settle here some day.”
During his college years, he worked summers for IBM and the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors in Washington, D.C.
“As an econ major, that was a pretty cool thing to do,” he said.
After graduation, Olszewski – like a lot of UW-Madison grads – took a job in Chicago. He worked for McKinsey and Co., a management consulting firm. After two years, he moved on to graduate school at Harvard.
He also spent some time in Japan working for Yasuda Fire and Marine Insurance in Tokyo, where he learned a smattering of Japanese. Then it was back to McKinsey for nearly five years.
In 1997, after he and his wife had their first child, the tug to return to Wisconsin lead him to send out a flurry of cover letters and resumes.
He landed with Parts Now!, a computer printer parts company, and eventually became its president and CEO.
“They were having some trouble and needed some help turning the company around,” he said modestly.
In 1999, the founder wanted to get out of the business. Olszewski led a management buyout with the help of several Chicago private equity firms. During his tenure, the company grew from $26 million to $86 million in revenues.
In 2002, Parts Now! bought a much larger Minneapolis company, Katun Corp., the world's leading alternate supplier of imaging supplies and parts for the business equipment industry. The deal was coordinated by PNA Holdings, LLC.
Shortly after that, Katun’s board asked Olszewski to move to Minneapolis to take over the entire operation, which had combined sales of $400 million.
But Olszewski and his family longed to return to Madison. He took a position as a lecturer at the business school last fall and was promoted to his new job earlier this month.
“Minneapolis wasn’t a great fit, but they wanted me to go up there and fix some things,” he said. “We never really liked it. And from a family standpoint, we were very happy in Madison. We longed to get back.”
Because Katun is an international company, he had to travel abroad.
“My kids are now nine and six,” he said. “I basically moved them up there and then left. I was on the road half the time, including a lot of weekends. I don’t think I made it to a single parent-teacher conference the years I was there.
“Life is too short to miss your kids growing up,” he said philosophically.
When a lecturing opportunity opened up at UW-Madison last summer, he jumped at the chance. He taught mergers and acquisitions.
“We are very happy to be back,” he said.
In his new post, Olszewski will head the entrepreneurship program, one of 13 MBA specializations at the business school.
Rather than being purely an academic, Olszewski has more than 15 years in the real business world.
“I guess I’m a little different in that I’ve been out there running companies and have a good amount of experience as a consultant working in a variety of industries, too,” he said.
“I have a lot of application experience, if you will,” he said.
Michael Knetter, dean of the business school, said "we are fortunate to have someone with this level of experience leading the Weinert Center.
"In this role, Dan will have the opportunity to assist students as they navigate coursework and job searches. It's incredibly valuable for our MBA students to learn from an industry expert."
For the moment, Olszewski said he is talking to students, alumni, board of advisors and others.
“It’s a little too early to talk about any changes,” he said, noting that the program has produced a number of successful graduates.
“I’ve only been here for six days. That’d be a better question in a couple of months.”
Olszewski said one of the things that attracted him to the Weinert Center was the diversity of the students in the entrepreneurship program.
“Some of them want to start their own companies right off,” he said. “Others are more of what I would call ‘corporate entrepreneurs’ who want to work for a company – maybe even a Fortune 500 company - but be involved with business development and change.”
Olszewski said he also wants to develop entrepreneurship in Madison, one of the stated goals of the Weinert Center.
“That attracted me a lot, too,” he said. “That mission extends from Madison to the entire country. That’s a pretty grand statement.”
Olszewski said most of his focus will be on working with students to help with career planning and starting their own businesses.
He’ll also be working more broadly to link students with technology coming out of the university “so that we can help each other.”