Cindy Kay Olson Biography
Very few people have the opportunity to start at the ground floor of an organization and through hard work, passion, intelligence and God’s favor rise to the executive committee level of a Fortune 7 company. Fewer yet have experienced the euphoria of being part of the leadership team that has received countless accolades for being one of the best places in America to work as well as one of the most innovative, only to see it all come crashing down in a matter of months.
Cindy Olson began her career in an oil and gas accounting position with Koch Industries in Wichita Kansas. From those humble beginnings she found herself on the fast track of a small energy business that over the following 20 plus years mushroomed into her role as the head of Human Resources and a member of the 20 person Executive Committee of Enron. By the end of 2000 Enron was the 7th largest public company in the world. She was among the top 150 executives of those 7 companies and 1 of only 18 women on those executive management teams. Enron has been described as one of the most complex businesses in American History. In 2000, Fortune named Enron 2nd in Quality of Management and 4th in Employee Talent. Many agree today, that although Enron at the time, was the largest Corporate Bankruptcy in American History, it was also a company ahead of its time developing Cloud Computing and Video on Demand in 1999.
Cindy experienced, and was part of building, a culture that was famous for being an excellent place to work and was named as Fortune’s 22nd best company to work for in 2000 by Fortune. She led organizations of Accountants, Operations, Risk Managers and finally the entire Global Human Resource function of a Fortune 7 company. By 2000, Enron had been named as the most Innovative Company by Fortune for six years running and other large successful company CEO’s were seeking Enron’s expertise on building that Innovative Culture. She spent the first part of 2001 coaching CEO’s of these companies on the secret to Enron’s Innovative success.
Enron seemed invincible, until Ken Lay passed off his CEO responsibilities to a new CEO and the culture of the organization began to change. In a matter of months, Cindy lived through the painful journey of watching the company and culture she loved disintegrate. She worked directly for both Ken Lay and the succeeding CEO Jeff Skilling and understands the differences in those two leadership styles that rapidly changed the Values based Culture that had been created at Enron under Ken Lay. Olson is the highest ranking Enron Executive to write a book and speak about the lessons learned from what happened to Enron. She was the first Enron executive to testify in front of the United States House and United States Senate. Her role in the 401K, a question she answered at a 1999 employee meeting and her mentor/mentee relationship with Lay resulted in a nearly 10 year investigation by the United States Government.
In Cindy’s unique role as the EVP of Human Resources for this 25,000 person organization, and her 23 year career at Enron, she had the knowledge and information to be able to do an extensive postmortem on this great American tragedy. She has authored a case study that she offers her speaking audiences that will be well worth your time as Cindy takes you through the highlights of what really happened to Enron through research of 10 years of employee survey results. What you will learn is not what you think happened, but what really happened and the lessons that can be learned by other companies and the leaders of those companies.
Cindy’s passion today comes out of a result of what she has learned and experienced. Through her unique experiences she helps companies avoid the consequences of a corporate culture that turns toxic with greed and arrogance. In her examination of Enron’s history she has discovered that relying on each individual to do the right thing without a consistent ethical standard to which everyone is held accountable is fraught with much risk. In addition she coaches companies to truly listen to their employees. Finally, she cautions leaders of companies that are successful that sometimes that success can lull you into believing that no matter what you can’t fail.