Oles in Economics: 1930-1939
Paul M. Otteson (’31): (Written by David Otteson, class of ’55, on behalf of his father Paul.)
Upon St. Olaf graduation in 1931, Paul enrolled in the MBA program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, graduating in 1932 with a major in Finance. He moved to Chicago with new wife, Luella (1932) and entered the doctoral program at Northwestern University’s School of Business. He attended evening classes while working full-time at Continental Casualty Company as a statistician. In 1935, when just short of completion, he was offered a position at Federated Insurance Company in Owatonna MN. He moved there with Luella and an infant son and worked there until mandatory retirement at the age of 60; he retired as Executive Vice-President and Chief Actuary. He was drafted into the Army in1944, declining officer training and serving at low enlisted ranks as a clerical specialist on ships transiting the Atlantic, eastbound as troop ships and westbound as hospital ships. Upon release at war’s end in 1945 he began preparing for actuarial exams following his return to MN. He soon became chief actuary at Federated, and handled the Company’s investment portfolio until retirement. He testified before Congressional committees as an expert on insurance matters, and was elected President of the prestigious American Actuarial Fellows Association, later receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award from the organization. Following retirement he, along with two others, was asked to turn around a failing insurance company. He and Luella spent several months in Washington DC, saving the company now known as GEICO, owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. He died in Northfield MN in 2007.
Arnold S. Anderson (’39):
I am flattered that you consider me an econ grad from St. O. since I took the only course labeled as econ in probably 1936 or ’37. It was taught by Mr. Weishert . His qualification as an economist was that he worked on the New York Stock Exchange. It was a simple course and the class work was the review of a simple text.
I note in the yearbook that the department was called History, Sociology, and Economics.
The first two years at St. Olaf, I was a pre med. major so the chemistry dept. consider me a grad of their dept. After two years, I took a vocational guidance test at the U. of MN . They informed me that I scored a zero in all fields except promotion and I went off the chart in promotion. Not knowing what that meant, I decided to take business courses. Also I wanted to take a course in philosophy, but the philosophy prof. denied me that privilege because I wasn’t a good candidate for the seminary.
I took a course in Mathematics of Finance by Dr. Carlson. A course that was very helpful for me in my later negotiations with financial people. I took a course in statistics which I believe has been helpful. All the other courses were from Dr. Klaragard in what he called accounting I and II. I would call them simple bookkeeping and Business Law. We just loved Dr. Klaragard for the person he was. He was a bachelor who roomed at Dr. Melby’s house on St. Olaf Ave. Almost every night when we would be coming home from downtown we would see him in the windows studying for our next day’s class. We were told he lost a leg in a logging accident and thus went to college to prepare for a job. He got a Ph.D. from WI. We never thought he was a scholar, but he was sincere and gave his best for us. One time he spent all evening trying to figure out an accounting problem in the text. The next day he came to class and reported he couldn’t figure it out and offered a trip to Europe for anyone who could. It was an easy problem, so I went to the blackboard and used a couple of algebraic equations. He said I got the right answer but used inappropriate means to achieve it. I enjoyed his answer and took it with good humor. He wanted me to go to Harvard for an MBA, but I had no interest in that. Later when I got out in the world and worked with Harvard MBAs and Harvard lawyers, (the big industries put them on my boards), I thought my basic business training was better than theirs for some very definite reasons. At St. Olaf I was taught a basic philosophy in addition to the mechanics. I was taught the importance of the religious philosophy, which was the continuous search for the truth and the importance of universal love and the expectation to implement love and truth into your practices. We had an integrity which they didn’t understand. In Business Law I understood the principle and created my own relationships and expected the lawyers to make them legal. Same with the accountants.
At St. Olaf because of the depression we were all very poor and as a result we worked harder than our eastern counterparts. We also didn’t think we were special, so we were much more humble. I believe we were just as intelligent as they. The one area in which I believe they enjoyed an advantage was in the contacts they had.
I assume that, though I was a mediocre student at St. O., the St. O. profs wrote good letters for my med school application. When I went to med. school, I thought I went to heaven. When I was a physician my objective was to provide services for those whose needs were the greatest and for whom the least was provided .
That involved for a great part a poor population that was unable to pay for their services.
It was because I was able to provide the St. Louis Park Med Center and the Children’s Hospital the leadership and management services they needed that their boards were able to support me in my financially unproductive practices.
I remember at the St. Louis Park Med Center the lady who took care of the bad accounts told me my practice profile was her bad account list. I went to the business mgr. worried about that and he told me to forget it – just keep doing what I was doing.
At Children’s, my only contract was verbal with the, then, all women’s board. Most of them were from different families. My contract with them was that I would work ½ time helping them create a hospital and they would build a state of the art inpatient and outpatient service and make it available to the poor children of Mpls. The poor children didn’t have competent, especially outpatient care at that time. The women fulfilled their part of the bargain. They sometimes in humor said that I cheated by spending more time in my practice than on administration. At one time I had more than 400 American Indian children as personal patients.
If I hadn’t the St. Olaf training, I probably couldn’t have provided those leadership and management services, so I can thank the St. Olaf econ. dept for providing me the opportunity to practice in keeping with my desires rather than the usual and customary.
I included a boiler plate statement of qualifications and added to it as per your directions and enclosed that in this letter.
My most significant life event and achievement was being married to Ruth Rusk Dalton: summa cum laude St. Olaf ’40. The rest of her life known as Rusk because of the plethora of Ruths on her St. Olaf dormitory floor.
She took a ner do well drifter and made him into what he became. I met her in the fall of 1938 when she came to St. O. as a junior, transfer student from Cape Girardeau, MO, S.E. Mo. Teachers College. At that time I became a gone goose and haven’t found my way since. She has been the world’s greatest mother and partner for now 70+ years. We were married on Aug 31, 1940 right after she graduated.
After I graduated in 1939, I went to work for a wholesale tobacco Co., just waiting for Rusk to graduate. We planned then to go somewhere and start a business, build a home etc. About six months after I graduated I realized business wasn’t for me. Then I had a vision. I could be a physician, quit my job the next day, went to the dean of the med school the next day. He told me that I didn’t have the pre med requirements and physics was the flunk out course. I went to the physics dept. and had them agree to give me physics credits by taking a physics test. I studied their text, took a test in mechanics and passed and then I was able to take the rest of the pre med in 6 months by doubling up courses. The U. accepted me in med school and my new wife went to grad. school. We arranged for a loan of $3000 and, with a jobbing business selling country furniture made in small Mo. factories, we put ourselves through grad. and med. school.
Rusk was and is a superb manager, mother, and partner. We have 10 children – all of whom are best friends. She, I believe, is the best speech writer and editor in America and because of that I have had unique service opportunities. She was an active partner with her social work skills in our international projects.
Our second most significant achievement was adopting our 10th child. We chose to adopt a child who was not acceptable for adoption. We adopted her when she was a year old. She is now 44 and has been a wonderful sibling and child. Now she is very supportive of us.
Since you were interested in my history as an econ alumnus of St. O., I will write the following. When I went to med school, I decided not to be involved in business again, but in 1956 I was a partner in the St. Louis Park Med Center which subsequently became the Park Nic Clinic. We had 15-20 partners then with a growing medical specialty practice, a usual business infrastructure, a bus. mgr. etc. In spite of that, financially we were doing very poorly and probably going to have to give up the practice.
My partners came to me and to my surprise asked if I would be president and CEO of the organization.
My prior business training was:
Ages 14-20 because of the depression I worked with my dad to help him cause his small business to survive. Though my dad had only an 8th grade education, he was very intelligent and self-educated. He was interested in my education and was a superb teacher for me. While in high school, I worked 1 PM to 6 PM Mon-Fri and all day Sat and all vacation days. While I was at St. O., I worked all vacation days.
I put myself financially through St. O by working in the book store- then the St. O. bus. mgr. fired me because I made too much money and he could hire full time help with what I earned. I started my own 2nd hand textbook jobbing business, which was better than being a bookstore clerk. I also was bus. mgr. of the Viking for a year. In med school I had my furn. jobbing business.
I was CEO of St. Louis Park Med Center from ’57-’60 and then off and on to 1965. It was there I learned that my role was better as leader then a mgr. So I hired qualified managers.
During that time we were med consultants for the Dayton executives and they said that we had a Tiger by the Tail and so they took over recruiting a business mgr. for us and educating me. For about a year I met with Dan Babcock for two hours every week. Dave was VP for personnel at Dayton ‘s. A brilliant man who I didn’t believe had a college education, he later became chairman of the board of the May Co. Dave reviewed my plans and taught me a lot about the nuts and bolts of how successful business org. functioned.
At the time I heard of a young man working for Bemis Co., who was going to Rutgers summer school to become a MBA. His name was Ed Asplin. Ed shared his thesis on management of executive personnel with me. It was very helpful in my establishing personnel policies for physicians. Ed and I have been friends for 50+ years. He became chairman of the board of the Bemis Co.
My next door neighbor was president of a large flour milling Co. in Mpls and he took an interest in my business struggles.
When I was at the Mayo Clinic as a fellow, I ran out of money to support my family, so I informed the head of the ped. dept that I decided to set up a private practice in Rochester . He sent me to the Mayo Clinic treasurer who personally loaned me some money and asked me what I planned to do and I informed him that I planned to start a group practice in Mpls. He asked me a few questions and became aware of my business ignorance and sent me to see Harry Harwick who was the Mayo brothers first business manager. We became acquainted and he gave me the Mayo brothers private journals to read.
Seven years later when we were in trouble I returned to visit Harry Harwick, and all the problems we had, the Mayos had a 100 years before. He took me by the hand and informed me how the Mayo solved their problems. We reorganized the St. Louis Park Med Center and shortly it became much more efficient and was generating financial surpluses.
Lou Cohen, a very successful medical magazine promoter, made me his pediatric editor and he knew the leaders of all the large successful clinics in U.S. He introduced me to the leader of those clinics and they were very helpful for me when I visited them for a day or two.
I never had a consultant- never believed in them, but as you can read I was fortunate in having many generous very qualified friends who gave me what I believe was a very good education.
All the years of the St. Louis Park Med Center I carried a full time ped. practice.
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