Eilene Olesen knows that mentorship and networking can completely change a person’s career trajectory and leadership development. She knows this because that’s what happened to her.
“On a career journey, everyone has mentors, but for me, my mentors have been so significant. They were my launching point,” she says. Today, Eilene is a director in IT at Land O’Lakes and has an unwavering capacity for kindness, a firm balance of modesty and honesty, and a strong leadership mindset built on developing her teams’ careers – all of which build a strong business.
As director of Land O’Lakes IT customer support services in IT operations, Eilene oversees IT support for both our corporate and remote locations. Her teams include the IT help desk, as well as the desktop services team who provide support on campus and the regional services who provide support to all remote staff. The work requires a “get it done” attitude and a lot of compassion.
Mentorship makes a difference
An IT leadership position was not always the plan for Eilene. She was always customer-oriented and a people person, but the IT piece didn’t happen until later on her journey.
“I didn’t go to college right after high school,” Eilene says. “I went to vocational school and became an administrative assistant.” Soon, Eilene found a position as an administrative assistant at a large company in St. Paul, Minnesota. And while working there, a connection with her first significant mentor set her life on a different trajectory.
“The director I worked for brought in this desktop computer from home, in the days before laptops,” she said. “And he set it on my desk and told me to learn it. That was the turning point that pushed me into more of an IT position for life.”
And Eilene started to learn as much as she could through experimenting and working with the computer. And the more she learned through experience, the more she craved a formal education.
And there entered her second significant mentor: Another director helped her balance her work so she could go back to school full-time while keeping her job and working part-time. After she got her four-year degree, she had the opportunity to manage and set up the first tech help desk at this company.
That chance to go back to school changed her life, and Eilene believes in paying that opportunity forward.
“The two people who were the most significant mentors, for me, were people I worked with. So today, I try to be an advocate for people who work for me,” Eilene says. “I try to focus on what will help an individual’s performance, which ultimately helps drive the business’ performance.”
A culture to thrive
“When I joined Land O’Lakes back in 2012, I could tell this was the culture I liked – everyone was so helpful and so kind. I remember that first day, sitting at my desk and thinking that this was where I belonged,” she says.
And Eilene has nothing but passion for the help desk and how important it is to a business, especially a Fortune 200 company that has facilities and sales teams across the U.S., and increasingly, around the world. Having IT support makes a business run smoothly.
“With the help desk, you really get to help people. No one calls the help desk because everything is great and they just want to chit chat,” Eilene says. “I try to help my team understand how significant what they do is – how it fits into a larger strategic picture of the business. People can’t do their job with a broken computer.”
As someone who loves to learn, going into IT just seems to make sense for a person like Eilene. Technology advances so quickly that you have no choice but to stay engaged in it.
“You have to stay connected in this industry, to move forward and to be able to keep up,” Eilene says. “What I really enjoy about my role is that I get to help people, through technology.”
The Help Desk answers about 72,000 calls on average per year, since Eilene has joined Land O’Lakes. Across all of IT, in 2017, there were 98,000 closed incidents and 85,000 service requests fulfilled. Eilene’s three teams handled about 54 percent of the incidents and 17 percent of the service requests in 2017.
Leading by example
But the one thing that Eilene likes most about the Land O’Lakes culture is this idea of being involved in many ways to give back. She does that through volunteering and by supporting IT initiatives across the enterprise.
For several years, Eilene was team captain for IT recruiting for Iowa State University. Currently, she focuses on the NWCIT Aspirations in Computing Award, which is part of a national program that honors young women in high school who have achieved success in computing and show aspirations for technology careers. The high school girls are placed in IT internships at Land O’Lakes each year, and Eilene is a big supporter of this program, among other diversity and inclusion initiatives.
“When you’re including everyone in a conversation and being very intentional about it, you’re going to have a better workplace and foster better ideas – inclusion is so important across the business,” says Eilene. “It’s important to me that I’m taking time to understand team members’ goals and working together on what’s needed to get there.”
And, of course, Eilene also takes it upon herself to lead by example through one-on-one mentoring. Right now, she has two mentees – one with a significant amount of career experience and one who is fresh out of college. Eilene cherishes the chance to be a mentor in her role and is humbled by the experience of being on the other side of the table.
“It’s not just about what I can share with my mentees, it’s also about what I can learn. They bring new perspectives; I can learn as much from my mentees as I hope they’re learning from me,” Eilene says. “At Land O’Lakes, I know leading with this mentoring mindset is vital to our business success. I approach every interaction with my team and others as a chance to make a real difference. It could really change someone’s career like it did mine.”
Eilene’s leadership style and commitment to prioritizing talent activities is greatly respected across the Land O’Lakes organization. And, true to her Midwest roots, Eilene will simply give a bright, but modest smile in appreciation of any praise she receives.
“I just hope I can give back as much as I’ve been given over the years,” says Eilene.