Jennifer Olson (BBA ’95, MBA ’97) likes challenges, and she faces them on a regular basis. Even in the best of circumstances, being chief operating officer at a children’s hospital is a tall task. Add in the recent twists of a pandemic, social justice movements, and navigating health care in the U.S., it’s clear it takes a strong leader to keep an organization focused on its core mission and values.
Jennifer is COO at Children’s Minnesota, a nearly century-old health system with hospitals in Minneapolis and St. Paul, a Level 1 trauma center, and 12 primary care clinics. Hers is a unique perspective on health care, from the not-for-profit model to the connection to the community, as well as the mission of a pediatric hospital.
“There’s something in me that pushes toward mission-based work,” she says. “The decisions I make or my team makes from a business or community perspective really make an impact in our community and in our patients’ and families’ lives.”
Jennifer grew up wanting to be a pediatrician, and took that dream to UW–Madison. But a ski accident in her sophomore year caused serious injuries and months of hospitalization and rehabilitation. When she returned to campus, she reconsidered her goals and instead pursued a finance degree. She still felt the pull of health care, with an eye toward the entire industry. Her MBA provided the cross-functional, collaborative experience that built the foundation of her leadership journey.
“We would have a pharmacy student, a physician executive, a person from mechanical or industrial engineering and me, and we’d all be working on a group project,” she says. “That really prepared me for roles like I’m in now. You’re not an expert in everything, you’ve got to get input from others.”
Jennifer’s childhood dream did come true in many ways. She still meets patients, walks the halls of hospitals, and cares deeply about how her work impacts the community. She just does it without wearing a white coat and stethoscope.
“I’m helping more than I could have as an individual provider,” she says.