Looking Back and Moving Forward: Rick Olson on Nearly Four Decades Spent at The Toro Company

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7/8/2024

Rick OlsonBy Mike Schmidt, AEM Director of Industry Communications — 

“What has kept me at The Toro Company for all these years is definitely the people and the culture. It is easy to look across any area of the company and see team members that have been here for 20, 25, or more than 35 years like myself. There is a desire to win in everything that we do, and to do so in the right way that best serves our customers, partners, and stakeholders.” – The Toro Company’s Rick Olson

Rick Olson didn't initially intend to spend his entire career at The Toro Company. Having joined TTC right out of college as manufacturing process engineer, Olson sought initially to gain a couple of years of practical experience before working toward a long-term goal of running his own business. But as the old saying goes, “the best laid plans of mice and men sometimes go awry.”

Thirty-eight years later, Olson is still employed by TTC. He’s no longer an engineer, though, having climbed the corporate ladder and into the C-suite as the company’s president and CEO. He is The Toro Company’s ultimate employee success story, and his nearly four-decade-long tenure with the organization serves as a testament to the idea that it’s possible to build a sustained and professionally satisfying career with one employer.

“My plans quickly changed after I joined TTC,” said Olson. “I developed a profound appreciation for the culture of the company, our people, our commitment to innovation, and fostering customer relationships built on integrity and trust.”

The AEM Manufacturing Express, the largest public engagement in the association’s 130-year history, is proud to make a stop at The Toro Company, this Wednesday, July 10. For more information and to follow along with the tour, visit manufacturingexpress.org.

Leveling Up and Moving Forward

Olson joined TTC – an AEM member company and designer, manufacturer, and marketer of lawn mowers, snow blowers, and irrigation system supplies – in 1986 after graduating from Iowa State University. The first several years of his career with the company were spent in either manufacturing operations or product development, and he gained valuable experience in a variety of different areas of the business. Eventually, to further develop his leadership skills and level up his career, Olson pursued and earned his MBA from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.

“This helped position me for the opportunity to lead our Exmark business, in Beatrice, Nebraska, as general manager and vice president, which was a fantastic experience,” said Olson. “As TTC has many global brands that serve customers around the world, the opportunity provided me with great insights into running a business, ranging from new product development and manufacturing, to marketing, sales, and service support.”

After spending three years leading Exmark, Olson ascended into the role of vice president for TTC’s international business, which serves customers in more than 125 countries and includes multiple brands in the company’s portfolio (such as Toro, Hayter, Perrot, and Ditch Witch).

“I enjoyed this unique opportunity and certainly developed an appreciation for the complexities of growing the organization’s presence and reach outside of the United States,” said Olson, who moved into the role of president and COO in 2015 before becoming CEO in 2016.

Spurring Organizational Growth and Development

The growth and development experienced by The Toro Company over the last several years has been deeply satisfying for Olson, who points to a number of key acquisitions by the company as being crucial to its ability to evolve and continue to meet the needs of markets and customers alike. Among the most notable were the 2019 acquisition of Charles Machine Works (which included Ditch Witch and other leading underground construction brands), the additions of Ventrac and Intimidator Group, as well as a pair of strategic technology acquisitions to help accelerate the integration of autonomous solutions across TTC’s global brands and businesses.

“We were able to achieve this all while keeping focus on our strategic priorities of profitable growth, operational excellence, and empowering people,” said Olson. “And through all this change and growth, I’m energized by the resilience, dedication, and collaboration of our teams as we maintain a dedicated focus on our goals and serving our global customers and stakeholders well.”

A Life Spent in Support of the Industry

Olson said he’s fortunate to have gained so many impactful experiences and valuable professional opportunities throughout his lengthy tenure with The Toro Company.

“Given TTC’s commitment to serving customers and industry partners by fostering enduring and meaningful relationships, I have truly enjoyed being a part of product development cycles, delivering cutting-edge innovations, and working with customers to solve their challenges,” he added.

Though he’s accomplished so much over such a long period of time, Olson said he’s still energized by working with TTC’s customers, understanding their needs, as well as delivering innovative solutions to help both address their most pressing problems and provide them with opportunities.

“To me, it’s an exciting time to be a part of The Toro Company as we fuel creative thinking, inspire top talent, and innovate for the future,” he continued. “I look forward to seeing how technology continues to evolve and how our organization is able to successfully leverage these advancements to stay ahead of the curve in a dynamic environment.”

Having spent his entire career in an industry that makes the equipment that builds, powers, and feeds the world, Olson offered the following advice for young people looking to pave their own unique path in equipment manufacturing.

“I would encourage those entering the workforce to keep an open mind and have the courage to explore opportunities that may require learning new skills or drawing on a set of unique experiences,” he said. “Explore what interests you and take advantage of developmental or technical programs that enable you to achieve not only your personal career goals, but that can also help your organization advance its strategic priorities in a meaningful way.”

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