Not long after Jason Olson and his wife brought their baby girl, Della, home from the hospital, they noticed something on her skin. What they thought might be an allergic reaction turned into a year-long journey beginning at the Seattle Children’s Hospital and ending at the National Institute of Health.
Della was diagnosed with a rare neurodegenerative disorder called Xeroderma pigmentosum-Cockayne syndrome complex, or XP-CS—a diagnosis that occurs in less than one in a million people. Characterized by a heightened sensitivity to UV light, Xeroderma pigmentosum is an autosomal recessive multisystem disorder that inhibits the DNA’s ability to repair itself after being exposed to ultraviolet radiation. Della’s unique diagnosis combines the characteristics of Xeroderma pigmentosum with those of Cockayne syndrome, a multisystem degenerative disorder associated with reduced life expectancy.
When Della was diagnosed, Olson was less than a year into his position as director of human resources at Fivos, a company providing data solutions for medical providers, registries, and device manufacturers to deliver better outcomes for patients.
“It has changed my relationship with my work. I know I don’t have the background to cure genetic diseases directly. Still, my profession allows me to help organizations seeking to advance medical research and patient care,” he explains.
Olson, who was recently promoted to vice president of human resources, operates at multiple levels to oversee HR for Fivos across the US, Egypt, and India. “There isn’t room for ego. Even though I’m VP of HR, I’ve ditched the ‘I’m too senior or important for that’ mentality,” he says. Even before his promotion, the overarching theme of Olson’s career has been his willingness to step into new areas, take on challenges, and get the job done.
“I’ve always had this mindset of ‘I’m going to solve this problem; I’m going to take on this challenge; I’m going to step into this uncomfortable place,’ and I think that serves well for an HR leader, as we’re constantly pulled into difficult and challenging situations,” Olson says.
When Olson came to the company, then known as Medstreaming, it was in a period of growth. It had acquired other businesses that had not been wholly integrated, creating a disjointed cultural infrastructure Olson knew wasn’t scalable. Later on, the company’s situation was further complicated by new ownership, leadership, and the pandemic’s arrival.
“We needed to ensure that our people saw a future for and with the company,” he says. “Yes, we had new leadership; yes, there was new ownership; yes, there was restructuring, but it didn’t mean we were going away.”
For Olson, a large part of this was working to improve communication and foster connection. With a focus on transparency, he worked with the new CEO, Jay Colfer, to launch interactive quarterly meetings that Colfer leads. “It allowed us to bring more transparency to the company by pulling back the curtains for people to ask questions and not feel shut out,” he explains.
To establish scalable people operations for long-term growth, Olson focused on three pillars: people, processes, and tools. “You need to have the right tools, integrated with the right processes, managed by the right people. Ultimately HR’s every action must support an organization’s overall business model. We need to make sure that how we align those three pillars efficiently and effectively supports the strategic direction of the company.”
Later, Olson would partner with executive leadership to build an initiative termed “One Fivos” to identify the company’s core businesses, how they’d be restructured to operate as one entity, and ultimately launch Medstreaming’s rebrand as Fivos. The new name, which is an alternative name for the Greek deity Apollo—god of light, truth, medicine, and healing—appealed to the team because it reflected the company’s commitment to creating insights around healthcare and quality.
As Olson looks back on the past few years, he’s amazed at the resilience of the Fivos staff. “It’s a reinforcement of the fact that, if we try to stand individually, we’ll fail, but when we work together as a team, we can succeed.”
Olson believes it’s essential to create an environment that supports the needs of the staff and enables them to engage in effective teamwork fully. Some of the benefits he’s implemented to help provide this support include fully paid family medical leave, a generous PTO program, and expanded paid company holidays. By providing the flexibility to manage the needs of their family and other life issues, Olson believes employees are better able to leverage their talents and abilities at work fully.
“I don’t want anyone to miss out on time with their family or feel like they don’t have the time or space to manage other life issues that may come up; I know from personal experience how important it is to give people that flexibility,” he says.