Profile - Steve Olson

This week’s profile is a dramatic, inspiring story of a regular guy with no formal college education who pulled himself up by his bootstraps to create the life he wanted for himself and his family.

Name: Steve Olson


Work: Software Manager at Ergotron, Inc.

Steve Olson is a software manager and blogger who frequently writes about business and education. Here are a few of Steve’s most popular and insightful essays:

5 Steps to Start a Business & Purchase Wholesale

Why People Believe Money is the Root of all Evil

Why Getting a Good Job isn’t the Best Way to Earn Money

How the Public School System Crushes Souls

10 Tips to Secure a Management Position without a College Degree

A new member of the Personal MBA, Steve is a living, breathing example of the power of taking responsibility for your own education.

Who are you, and what do you do?

I am a 37 year old father of two. I’m married to Christine who is also 37 and we’ve been together for 18 years.

I manage a team of software developers and DBAs who maintain the software infrastructure at Ergotron, Inc , including the Oracle eBusiness Suite. At Ergotron, I am fortunate enough to lead one of the finest Oracle teams ever assembled. I can honestly say that I believe Ergotron is one the best companies in the world, and that’s why I choose to work there today. Many people are down on corporate America (myself included), but Ergotron is an exception to the negative stereotype.

I could give you a thousand examples, but instead I’ll just give you just one – a week before Christmas 2006 our founder’s family unexpectedly gave every employee $500.00 in cash. There were people in tears at the event. I love this company, the people that run it, the founder, and my team. Some people may think I overstating how fun it is to work here – I’m not – I’m understating it.

I also author a blog part-time at I write personal anecdotes that promote thought, freedom, and entrepreneurship. I am planning to use the blog as a springboard into larger creative ventures.

What’s your story? How did you get to be where you are now?

Some people would advise me not to talk about my early years, but I am going to give you a quick and honest chronology, in the hope that it may open some eyes to human potential.

Most people would say based on my history and background, I should have never made it to where I am today. That’s another reason I started blogging, I have a lot of stories to tell.

As a child I tested as ‘gifted and talented’ – that is what they call it today. But I was a chronic underachiever and a horrible student. I did graduate from High School – mostly due to social promotion. I learned little in school after the 7th grade.

I spent my first months of adulthood homeless, sleeping in parks, at friends’ houses, or on apartment building rooftops.

The day I met Christine, I didn’t have a job, a car, or a dollar in my pocket.

I worked shit jobs for years – minimum mage – restaurants and hotels. From there I drove a truck, I moved into customer service, dispatch, customer service management (ran a team of 10), and eventually IT.

In 1997 Christine and I started We built it from nothing but an idea into a site with over 5 million items for sale and 10,000 visitors a day. In September of 2000 we sold it to and

My experience with music1search propelled me into management at Ergotron, where I still work today.

I owe much of my career success to my own hard work, constant personal improvement, and the open-minded senior management at Ergotron.

What cool projects are you working on at the moment?

Jim Fischer (my boss) and I are beginning to plan an Oracle ERP implementation in China. The implementation ‘go live’ is slotted for early 2008.

We are working on ‘lights out’ EDI/XML ordering, fulfillment, and shipping using software and the internet to minimize inefficiencies in our supply chain and distribution centers.

I am in the beginning stages of a new blog concept. Shhh! It’s a secret. But believe it or not… I don’t think it’s ever been done before. I plan to roll it out before the end of the year.

I’m also helping my wife grow her book business.

What are you most interested in learning right now?

I’m working on becoming a better communicator. My focus right now is to listen better. I’ve spent most of my life talking but rarely listening. I want to learn to clear my mind of noise and truly listen to others when they speak. I don’t know about you, but this is challenging for me.

I am also working on writing. I want to be the best storyteller I can be.

What are you currently reading? Why?

On Writing Well by William Zinsser – This is the third time I’ve read it. It’s the best book on writing ever written and I learn something new each time I read it. Why? To improve my writing.

Saharasia by James Demeo – My brother has been urging me to read this book for years. It’s heady stuff. It is an unorthodox view of the origin of child abuse, social violence, and warfare. The author is a student of the controversial psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich. Wilhelm Reich authored The Mass Psychology of Fascism. Why? Because I love psychology, sociology, and anthropology. I crave an understanding of the human mind in the context of culture and history. Since it’s a controversial view, it fuels my curiosity even more. I am not a Reichian. In fact, before my brother loaned me this book, I had no idea Reichians even existed. I am just curious about these theories.

What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?

When I finished my Private Pilot flight examination the examiner – Anders Christensen – said, “You’re going to make mistakes, just don’t make the one that kills you." I apply that to everything in life including business. I think he meant – don’t be a perfectionist – take chances – be smart but not reckless – take calculated risks – that‘s how you grow.

What would help you most right now?

A little more energy. My wife is running a business out of our basement, and I have my 2 and 4 year-old boys most evenings. Taking care of those boys for 3-4 hours a night saps more energy than working a 10-hour day. I have tremendous respect for the folks that care for children full-time.

Thanks, Steve!

Read more essays by Josh Kaufman →

Published: March 14, 2007Last updated: March 14, 2007

Books by Josh Kaufman