As Vice President and President/Owner, respectively, of Major Mechanical, husband-wife team Jonathan and Kristen (Nelson) Olson have found their groove.
It’s not often that a husband and wife work together towards a common goal for their day job.
For over seven years, however, Jonathan and Kristen (Nelson) Olson ('91) have clocked in at offices that share a wall, worked towards the success of a single company, and spent many off-the-clock hours talking shop.
"Surprisingly, it has worked out very well," shares Kristen, owner and president of Major Mechanical. Jonathan holds an equally expansive role in the HVAC and plumbing installation company as vice president, project manager, and estimator.
While holding the top two positions in a company that employs over 100 people sounds like a recipe for strain on any marriage, the couple shares that they’ve found their balance:
“We each have our own set of responsibilities and don’t let them overlap,” Kristen explains. It helps that they both love what they do; the one problem they sometimes encounter is that discussions about work bleed into date nights and vacations, simply because they enjoy talking about work with each other.
The couple's work also flows from a long history of doing life together: they both attended Minnehaha Academy and then moved on to Saint Thomas. From there, they worked for Kristen’s father at Metropolitan Mechanical Contractors for 17 years, Kristen in accounting and Jonathan as a pipefitter.
While Kristen latched on to her future in accounting back during her Upper School years, Jonathan's journey took a slightly more circuitous route.
Jonathan had planned a career in chemistry, but soon realized that office and lab work didn't fit his active personality. Looking for something more physical, he chose pipefitting, which ultimately led to his current role as Vice President, Project Manager, and Estimator of the company. His hands on experience positions him to evaluate potential job sites and challenges with greater understanding and clarity than those who simply understand the theory of the work.
Kristen took time off to stay home with the kids when they were young, but in April of 2011 the couple decided they were ready to step out and take a risk: they purchased Major Mechanical.
“The first year was definitely very stressful,” Kristen acknowledges. “Taking over a business from an owner who had run the company for about 25 years was challenging...there were 41 employees who I am sure were very curious about what we would do with the company.”
At the point that Kristen and Jonathan stepped in, the company had been struggling. Like many companies it wasn't spared by the 2008-2009 economic recession, and the Olsons had to reach out to the few existing customers and try and gain their confidence in the new ownership as well as try to find new customers who would take a chance on them.
With a lot of hard work the risk paid off: today Major Mechanical boasts a portfolio of almost 100 apartment buildings and has expanded to include a commercial division that works on restaurants, office buildings, and theaters.
The Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal has also named the company one of their “Top Women-Owned Businesses” for the past four years running.
While the journey to where the family is today involved a "roller coaster of ups and downs," the Olsons feel blessed. "There are probably not very many married couples that can handle working together, but we honestly have a great relationship both in and outside of the office,” Kristen says.
The Schmidt Artist Lofts, where Major Mechanical completed a challenging historic remodel project for Weis Builders.
Continuing the Minnehaha Legacy
Circling back to their early years, Jonathan and Kristen share that “MA molded us into who we are as adults.” From Mrs. Madson who sparked Kristen’s interest in accounting to Bonnie Peterson, who both challenged Jonathan and made him laugh, the couple feel grateful for their years at MA.
Even though they don't live close to the school, they ultimately decided the drive was a small price to pay for their own children to experience a similar education and spiritual foundation.
Their oldest, Summer, graduated in 2017 and is the 18th person from the the Nelson/Olson families to graduate from MA. She currently studies biology at the University of Northwestern-Saint Paul. Son Tommy plays the bari saxaphone and soccer at the Upper School and will graduate in 2021.
"There really hasn’t been even a question as to what school our kids would go to," shares Kristen. "The small class sizes and the warmth of the teachers and community cannot compare to any other school."
For more alumni stories check out our alumni blog posts here.