Statistics show that only three percent of family businesses survive into the fourth generation. But with Ron Olson’s guidance, Paulson Electric has not only done so, it has continued to thrive. And now the next generation is helping lead the company. Ron’s two children grew up running up and down the halls of the business and are now in significant leadership positions, poised to continue the company’s success.
Ron Olson was born in Denison, Iowa and moved to Cedar Rapids in 1961. Growing up, Ron played lots of golf, and was very involved with music, which he pursued as a member of the University of Iowa marching band. Today, Ron still enjoys playing tenor saxophone for the alumni marching band. Graduating with a BA in Journalism from the University of Iowa was the first of three major events in 1970. Ron and his wife Sue became engaged in December and he was drafted for the Vietnam War, where he worked in psychological operations due to his journalism background until 1972.
When Ron moved back to Iowa in 1973, he joined the family business. Sue’s father, Leo Plotz, was the second generation leadership of Paulson Electric. At first, Ron began his career in the estimating department as an estimating clerk, learning the prices and estimations of all parts involved in the business. As Ron continued work at Paulson Electric, Leo became a valued mentor in addition to being a trusted father-in-law. By 1985, Ron was formally running Paulson Electric as President and to this day, Ron can still name obscure parts and their prices from his estimation days, according to his son and daughter.
Continuing the strong legacy has always been evident at Paulson Electric. In 2000, PEC Communications was started. PEC is a company that specializes in environmentally conscious low-voltage design. Notable downtown Cedar Rapids projects include Mercy Medical Center Campus and Hall-Perrine Cancer Center, the Gazette and KCRG buildings, and the new Theatre Cedar Rapids.
Ron Olson is known as a staple leader of the community. Ron has always been and remains a civic leader and active volunteer. “I think that Ron’s legacy is that his children are involved in the community as well - that’s a great legacy: not just what he’s done but what’s left behind,” said John Ehrhart of Shuttleworth & Ingersoll.
Ron was the 2013 campaign chair for United Way of East Central Iowa leading an incredibly successful campaign that culminated in more than $10,000,000. Ron approached the campaign with a fervor and love for the community. Ron also approached the campaign with a friendly smile: one that is captured in the “Flat Ron” animation that is still seen around town. “Ron’s entire working life has been dedicated to giving back by contributing his time and talent to the community,” said Jack Evans of the Hall-Perrine Foundation.
It is hard to pinpoint where Ron has had the biggest impact in the community; Ron is a past president of CR Rotary, chaired the board of the GCRCF, was elected to the Cedar Rapids Community School Board four times, is currently on the board of the Metro YMCA, was a member of the 2008 Flood Recovery Task Force, was a member of the lobbying delegation to Washington D.C. for the Chamber of Commerce, and has chaired the Mount Mercy University scholarshare campaign, among many others.
Now, as Ron is transitioning in his role at Paulson Electric, his son Tyler, his daughter Mindy, and his son-in-law, Ethan are going to continue the proud traditions and rich legacy known to the Paulson Electric brand. However, one thing is certain: community involvement and family have been and will continue to be the focus of Ron’s life.