Still in command: civilian Ron Olsen caters to people first
KATHY GREY / FLORIDA WEEKLY Ron Olsen
Retired Navy Commander Ron Olsen has long since traded in his crisp blue uniform for khakis and comfortable shirts with palm trees on them.
He traveled the world fighting the Cold War in its waning years.
Today, living and working in Punta Gorda, he still manages to find adventure in numbers and the complexities of tax codes.
“I used to chase Soviet subs. I find sitting across the desk from an IRS agent just as thrilling,” said Mr. Olsen.
He is the new chairman of the Punta Gorda Chamber of Commerce and partner at Strang, Olsen & Lynch, certified public accountants. As a naval officer, he put in time on vessels, and later traded that for a comptroller position at the Pentagon. Mr. Olsen has handled money, juggled it, protected it and used it to beget more money for his clients.
Even now, during an economic downturn, he and members of his firm are seeing new clients and holding onto old ones by adhering to a philosophy of catering to people rather than to their bank accounts.
The lobby of Strang, Olsen & Lynch, CPAs still smells of wood, caulk and plaster. It’s the scent of final inspection Florida construction. The firm where Mr. Olsen has been a partner since 2000 just moved into the facility on the corner of West Olympia Avenue and U.S. 41. On this day, Mr. Olsen lifts the blinds in his new office to reveal palm trees and quaint old Florida homes just beyond in historic Punta Gorda.
“Look, it’s like I’m in the Keys,” he said.
Road improvements along Aqui Esta Drive have created a fortuitous diversion of traffic. Traffic coming from Punta Gorda Isles will have to drive right by the new building for the next several months. The opportunity to show off the new digs does not elude Mr. Olsen.
“We’re going to get free advertising for the next six months with all the cars passing by here,” Mr. Olsen said.
Any free publicity is welcome. Like many business, Strang, Olsen & Lynch has seen clientele drop off and some existing clients struggle to pay their bills.
“We’ve probably noticed about a 10 percent decline in business, but I have a new client every week,” said Mr. Olsen.
The role of the CPA often requires a level of honesty right up there with what one might have with their priest or doctor. Mr. Olsen understands the sacredness of the relationship. Recently, there have been many clients whose financial lives have been shattered — their businesses barely left standing. Mr. Olsen has heard their stories down to every telling decimal point.
“Many clients are looking for cash flow to keep their businesses going. We’re more busy now doing that kind of thing,” he said. He fears there will be more clients like that to come in the short term. “I am concerned we might see one more round of business losses, the ones who put everything on the line.”
Despite this grim forecast, Mr. Olsen is both realistic and optimistic about the future of business in Punta Gorda. His firm’s building has five empty offices for growth it expects in years to come. As chairman of the Punta Gorda chamber, he said he is out almost every night at a ribbon-cutting or business event that shows commerce is alive and well in Charlotte County.
“We’re not going to move fast. We’re going to earn our way out of this recession. The government has spent all the money they’ve got. They got in early and tried to prevent this from going through the floor. Now they’re done. Now it’s our turn.”
Mr. Olsen moved to Punta Gorda in 1999. Charlotte County appealed to the Navy man because of its water access. The relatively uncongested roadways — as compared with the nightmare that is the Capitol Beltway — also helped seal the deal.
Shortly after arriving here, Mr. Olsen met and hit it off with CPA Bob Strang. Soon thereafter, the two became partners. Mr. Strang has since retired and Brenda Lynch has joined the group as a third partner.
The firm thrives on a work environment that is, above all else, fun. That is, for people like Mr. Olsen, who thinks numbers and tax code can be fun.
“I can have two identical couples, but their tax issues are different. Everybody invests differently, everybody has unique problems,” he said.
Unlocking how the figures can work for every client is a mental exercise he relishes.
“If it ain’t no damn fun, it ain’t no damn good,” he said with a smile.
“I enjoy what I do.” ¦