Wisconsin Department of Commerce Newsletter
Aaron Olver Re-Joins Commerce as Deputy Secretary
Aaron Olver experienced a bit of déjà vu last week. The former Department of Commerce Executive Assistant (EA) returned to his 6th floor office after spending the past six months working on Governor Doyle's re-election campaign, and subsequently his transition team. While some things at Commerce stayed the same, everything, from Olver's perspective, was different. Checking back into the agency on February 5, he was no longer the agency's liaison to the Governor, but the Deputy Secretary of the department – a role he is looking forward to stepping into.
Growing up in Middleton as the son of card-carrying union members (his father was a middle school teacher and coach, his mother a medical technologist); Olver credits his initial interest in politics to his parents, who would discuss the ways of the world at the dinner table. Nonetheless, he notes that while growing up he assumed that to be in politics one needed to be "wealthy and well-connected" neither of which described his life circumstances.
However, after saving up his money from his first entrepreneurial venture – lawn mowing – where he learned to "drink lots of water and collect your bills!" – Olver headed off to college at UW-Madison and found out that his preconceived notion was not necessarily so. Inspired by former President Bill Clinton's rags to riches climb to the nation's top spot, and "regular man" Senator Russ Feingold's successful campaign to oust long-time Senator Bob Kasten, Olver began volunteering for on-campus political organizations and found that the world of politics was "incredibly permeable."
Fascinated by the political process, after earning a BA in economics, Aaron took a job with the Wisconsin Legislature and began undertaking the rigorous process of becoming a Rhodes Scholar. As a successful applicant, he earned a spot at Oxford University in the United Kingdom, where he spent two years securing a Master's Degree in philosophy, politics and economics.
Returning to the U.S., he took a position as a consultant with the Chicago management consultant firm McKinsey & Company where he spent the next three years guiding large corporations with their growth strategies. Yet while his job was in the Windy City, his heart – and political interests - were still in Wisconsin. He had been following the gubernatorial race there and had familiarized himself with the top three front runners challenging incumbent Governor Scott McCallum. After listening to a number of stump speeches, he determined that in the area of economic development – another of his passions – candidate Jim Doyle, then Wisconsin's attorney general, "got it".
Moving back to the Madison area in 2002, which he financed by starting his own consulting firm tending to clients in Massachusetts and Minnesota, he offered his services to the Doyle team. After the election, he was asked to serve as the EA at Commerce, a role he filled for 3 ½ years, until being tapped for helping the Governor seek a second term.
Now that the dust is settled, Olver says that he is very much looking forward to his new challenges at Commerce. While his previous experience here has been mostly "externally focused", working with the Governor's office and Legislature, he's now concentrating on the internal workings and day-to-day operations of Commerce. He says that Commerce is "a great agency - an exceptional agency" filled with bright, caring, committed individuals.
However, he says that "All of the good work that gets done internally can really get eroded if we are not communicating effectively with the outside world." It is Olver's hope to help shine a light on Commerce, and with his strong understanding of how state government works as well as his familiarity with the Governor's staff and the legislature, he can help "advocate and celebrate" the agency and its hard working individuals.
When asked what Commerce employees and the public can expect regarding his management style, Olver smiles and says that he plans on being "more visible and accessible" than he was as the EA – when the majority of his work was done outside of the agency – and that he hopes to build "strong communications" on all levels, so that everyone in and outside the department can come to appreciate what he has learned in the last half year – that in Wisconsin state government, there is no better place to be than Commerce.
-- Barbro McGinn
The newsletter is issued electronically every other month.
Please send comments or questions to Barbro McGinn, editor.