Mark Olson brought rural banking values to prominent public-sector positions in Washington, D.C., leading to appointments on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and a board overseeing implementation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
He died on Sept. 12 in Maryland after a long battle with pulmonary fibrosis. He was 75 years old.
Olson graduated in 1965 from St. Olaf College, where he earned a degree in economics and played on the hockey team. He then took a job at what is now U.S. Bancorp, embarking on a storied career in both the public and private sectors of the financial services industry.
In the 1970s, he served two stints as aide to U.S. Rep. Bill Frenzel, R-Minn., and then returned to his hometown in 1976 to become president and lead owner of Security State Bank of Fergus Falls, the rural bank founded by his father. In 1986, he became the youngest person elected president of the American Bankers Association and in 1988 joined Ernst & Young, eventually becoming national director of the firm’s financial services consulting practice. Olson then became a staff director of the Senate Banking Committee.
Olson’s early political connections helped him get recognition in Washington, and his rural banking experience gave him credibility, said Bill Sands, a friend from their early professional lives and shared membership in the Young Republicans. “He knew his way around Washington. He understood banking, he had good relationships with regulators, he just loved his life in D.C.”
In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed Olson to the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors under Chairman Alan Greenspan.
“He was a fellow who did his own thinking, which is important,” said Gregg Peterson, who also served on Frenzel’s staff in the 1970s and crossed paths professionally and socially with Olson afterward. “He wasn’t unfamiliar with the larger global monetary policy issues that the Fed wrestles with all the time, but he also knew what kind of business issues that small businesses on Main Street wrestled with.”
In 2006, Olson resigned from the Fed board to chair the newly formed Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, created through the Sarbanes-Oxley Act to protect investors after corporate financial scandals including those at Enron, Tyco and WorldCom.
Olson had a knack for explaining complex financial and regulatory issues and was a frequent commentator on CNBC. “Mark just loved to really share things and he liked to break it down so everybody could connect,” said friend Dave Broden.
In 2009, Olson co-founded and became chairman of Treliant Risk Advisors, which consulted for financial services companies. Olson and co-founder Andy Sandler grew it to be a $100 million company with more than 300 employees.
“Mark always viewed himself as a Fergus Falls hockey player dressed up as a banker,” said Sandler, chairman of Treliant and also chairman of Temerity Capital Partners and CEO of software firm Asurity Technologies.
“I don’t think there was anybody in the financial services industry who had the breadth of experience and perspective that Mark did,” Sandler said. “He was the moral conscience of the financial services industry. Mark was all about ‘We can do things the right way and be very successful.’ ”
Olson, an avid golfer, was also on the board of the Economic Club of Minnesota and Otter Tail Corp. Over the past 25 years, Olson lived near Washington but returned to the Fergus Falls area during the summers and eventually built a dream cabin on the shores of Otter Tail Lake.
Olson is survived by his wife, Renee Korda; two children and three grandchildren. A memorial service in Maryland has been held. A celebration of life service will be held Oct. 14 at the Bigwood Event Center in Fergus Falls.