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Jim Olson '91

headshot of Jim Olson

For more than 25 years, senior global communications executive Jim Olson ’91 has helped major corporations such as Starbucks, United Airlines, Nissan, US Airways, Boeing, and others around the world elevate their brands through the power of strategic storytelling. The West Coast native and Newhouse graduate recently launched Hangar 6, a public relations consultancy, in the Chicago area.

An opportunity with United Airlines first brought you to Chicago. Tell us about coming here from the Northwest.
Chicago is one of America’s great cities, with its spectacular lakefront, great food, and “decent” sports teams. (I’m still a Seahawks fan, for the record.) Fellow alumni Mark Verone ’95 and Sandra Micek ’91 immediately made us feel welcome. 

And what do you recall about first coming to Syracuse?
I was from Los Angeles, so winters were…special. Seriously, my fellow students were the most transformative part of my Syracuse experience. They’ve turned into lifelong friends. Forever Orange is more than a slogan. It’s our way of life.  

You have a Newhouse degree in public relations and have worked for some incredible companies. What do you consider highlights of your career thus far?
I’ve been blessed with a remarkable career and priceless experiences.

I’ve worked for some of the planet’s most innovative agencies, like TBWA Chiat/Day, Porter Novelli, and Waggener Edstrom Worldwide.

I’ve also worked across industries and situations. From managing the crisis response after US Airways flight 1549 landed in the Hudson River in 2009, to leading the communications-driven turnaround effort at United Airlines, and to working with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, I’ve led great teams through transformative times.

It’s hard to say what has been my favorite or most rewarding experience. Each was epic and shaped my career in its own way.

What inspired you to start Hangar 6?
All along, I’ve been energized by the storytelling opportunities, purpose-driven mission, and periods of change at the companies I’ve helped. So I started Hangar 6, a strategic storytelling consultancy, to help other companies find, tell, and protect their own unique stories.

You have been generous to Syracuse with both time and financial resources. Why is it important to stay involved and be philanthropic?
Howard Schultz often said, “Success is best when it’s shared.” I agree! Whether it’s teaching a class at Syracuse, attending alumni events, or making a financial gift—whatever you give, you get so much more in return. 

Some of my most memorable and rewarding experiences have come while teaching Syracuse students. I’ve really enjoyed sharing my journey over the past 25 years with them, and I hope what I learned has a ripple effect on their careers and pays dividends for years to come.

In 2015, you were named one of Newhouse’s 50 most influential graduates in the past 50 years. How does that make you feel?
None of this would have been possible without the bedrock foundation and career-long friendships and connections I made through Syracuse and Newhouse. I’m very grateful to Maria Russell, Tony D’Angelo, and the entire Newhouse faculty for their immeasurable influence on my career.

In my view, you don’t “go to Newhouse”—you’re Newhouse for life!