Tackling the ups and downs of the pandemic has been a wild ride for Westerner Park’s CEO Mike Olesen.
But Olesen, who will be leaving the non-profit as of July 31, said that while it’s been an extreme few years, it’s also been a tremendous learning experience.
“Absolutely I’m humbled by the fantastic opportunity that I was given,” Olesen said.
“If hindsight was clear and I knew then what I know now, I probably would have been just as, if not more, attracted to the role because of the challenge it was going to be. Although I came in with hopes of growing and evolving the organization, it became clear that I had a different mission.”
Olesen took over as CEO in November 2019 and after a few months venues closed down due to COVID-19, followed by capacity limits and restrictions.
Westerner Park Board Chair Deb Beck says Olesen has accomplished many of his leadership goals.
“Mike has led the organization well through a period of crisis, modernizing systems and rebuilding operations, all while also adeptly managing the extreme challenge a pandemic posed to an events organization,” said Beck in a statement.
“His management skills were put to the test, and he delivered as promised.”
Westerner Park says that in addition to implementing a new events management system and creating a more efficient and effective financial management structure, Olesen helped the board negotiate a new partnership with the City of Red Deer, was instrumental in the establishment of the Westerner Foundation and reinvigorated the volunteer base.
“Through Mike’s dedicated and business-like approach in rebuilding a solid footing, we are set up for success.”
Olesen said it was time to hand the reins over.
“We’re in a place of recovery, and I’m just happy that I’ve been able to be a part of that and to help us get to this point.”
Olesen took over shortly before the City of Red Deer assumed temporary financial oversight of Westerner Park as the non-profit organization dealt with its past debt.
An independent audit found questionable decisions were made about building the new exhibition hall during a prolonged recession and under over-estimated revenue projections.
Olesen said those financial challenges have also been smoothed out. The organization has come a long way.
“We have a real strong handle on our business. From a cash flow point of view, we’ve had a lot of recovery to make up and we’re nearly at that point.”
The Westerner Park Board will begin its search immediately, with a goal of having the next CEO in place by early summer.
Olesen wanted to provide sufficient time for the transition between leadership so he will be with Westerner Park through the 2023 Westerner Days.