Q&A: E3161 Victoria Edwards & 11938 Don Olechowski

E3161 Victoria Edwards & 11938 Don Olechowski.

e-veritas: You recently presented to a engineering class at RMC.

Don Olechowski: 11746 Doctor Derrick Bouchard, one of my Mech Eng/AERE classmates and a great friend, asked me to give a presentation about Tesla to the Elec and Mech Eng students while I was in town for Ex-Cadet weekend last fall. Afterwards, he gave me the highest possible praise: “Not one of them fell asleep the whole time!” They asked a lot of questions about life after RMC, and after military service. I think I told them they were being equipped to do whatever they wanted to do, and to just keep learning, working hard and taking on new challenges.

Ever since hearing about Tesla Motors, I had wanted to work there, and finally got my chance in 2012, when the company was starting a massive scale-up of Model S production. It has been 20 months of the most exciting, challenging, grinding, rewarding work I’ve ever done. I’d like to say a few more words about how challenging and exciting it is to work here at Tesla. It is very cool to be part of it. Kinda the highpoint and highlight of my career, although I’m just a middle manager – very hands-on work. There are lots of other Canadians here too; young engineers from Waterloo and UBC, and some older hands from Toyota Canada Cambridge. www.teslamotors.com.

e-veritas: How do you find running the RMC/CMR/RRMC class of 1978 group on facebook since you are US based?

Don Olechowski: I’ve been in the San Francisco Bay area since 2002. Divorced twice and now happily living with my partner Susan Kelly in Palo Alto, home of Stanford University and a lot of high-tech and VC firms. I have four daughters. Caroline is living and working in Edinburgh, Alison is at MIT, Lilah is in 2nd year at Dalhousie. I met their mom at the 4th year meet and greet; she came over from Queen’s. My fourth daughter, Jacqueline, age 11, is my one American child. I have a US Green Card, and it’s been on my to-do list for 5 years to apply for US Citizenship, but I just can’t go there yet…) I did a variety of conventional jobs and technology start-ups for the next few years. I had wanted to live there since I stepped off the airplane for interview with Raychem in Nov 1989. This is a great part of the world to live in!

In my career, I have benefitted from contacts from both Military College and MIT, and I like to give back. I attended and helped organize the last two class reunions. (35th anniversary class reunion 2013).A number of alumni sponsored current cadets to attend the reunion events. I was impressed at how the cadets circulated freely with H7543 Senator Joseph Day and the Generals and senior executives in our class. I have a goal to get the entire class signed up on Facebook – it’s not just for kids anymore – so that we can more easily organize ourselves for reunions, casual contact and networking. Please sign up on Facebook as my “friend” and get all the other guys you keep in contact with to do the same thing. You’ll be amazed at its utility. Classof1978.rmcclub.ca

e-veritas: How did you come to study at Mil Col?

Don Olechowski: I grew up in Medicine Hat, Alberta (same as H25917 Major (Ret’d) Danny McLeod, although I didn’t find out he was from there until I introduced myself at my 30th reunion) and was an Air Cadet. My dad was a RCEME Craftsman in WWII and two of my uncles were RCAF officers. I was inspired to become an aerospace engineer by Neil Armstrong and the whole NASA Apollo program. Some guys a few years older than me in town (9665 Marv Fenrich, 10070 Captain Roger Anderson, 11016 Ron Tidy, 10285 Ken Newnham went to RRMC and RMC and the idea was firmly planted in my head by about Grade 9, and I didn’t consider any other options. A couple of my older cousins were engineers, but I didn’t really have a clue what an engineer did. I just loved math and physics, and had my heart set on military college, mostly as an idea.

e-veritas: How did you find RRMC vs RMC & CMR?

Don Olechowski: Royal Roads was a great experience. I have vivid memories. (People always marvel at my memory. I remember kindergarten events! Although as I get older, people accuse me of re-telling the same stories… ) I might have been the only recruit in my class never to get a Circle. I have many great friends to this day from there.

I actually liked RMC even better. I made so many more great friendships, with RMC and CMR guys. Third year was my best academic year (I got the star and crown) and I loved the city of Kingston. I played lots of squash and volleyball. Fourth year was good too. My favorite profs were Dean Leonard, who passed away many years ago, and 3342 Dr Craig Moffatt, who I keep in touch with. He passed along his love of Fluids and Thermodynamics.

The transition to RMC was quite easy. Many of us Roadents had been barmen in 2nd year (which was the first year there were 3rd years at Roads, so those guys got all the 4 bar spots and CWC). Many of the “Purebloods” were keen to volunteer for “shafts” so that they could get noticed and become barmen the next year, but most of us Roadents were content to avoid them! It’s funny, Roadents were keener in shoes and uniforms, CMR guys were not so keen but many ended up in high bar positions in 4th year. We really did become a well-blended group at RMC, from 3 different colleges. To this day, at reunions, it’s the RMC guys vs CMR in broomball.

e-veritas: What was going on when you were at the Mil Col?

Don Olechowski: Previously, there were purebred cadets, who only attended RMC and cadets who transferred from Roads or CMR to RMC after 2nd year. Both Roads and CMR became degree granting in 1977 (e.g. oceanography, business). For the first time, cadets such as 11511 Mike Kennedy & 11510 Barry Kennedy could graduate purebred from Roads while others, such as the current CDS, 12192 Tom Lawson could graduate purebred RMC. In fact, the previous CDS, 12320 Walt Natynczyk , who I knew from Air Cadets and recruit flight, began at RRMC and graduated from CMR.

I recall that the Mil Col athletic programs had minor differences, for example first year Roadents wrestled, while RMC cadets boxed. At both Roads and RMC, I was too tall and skinny to play foot ball. I kept in shape running x-country and playing various sports.

Our commandant in 4th year was the famous H4860 John de Chastelain. We knew we were lucky to have him at that time, as a 40 year old BGen, and it was no surprise that he went on to such an auspicious career. I was as surprised as anyone to be named CWC in 2nd term, so I got to know him quite well, along with CWO Robert Slaney, our remarkable College Sergeant Major and A120 Maj. John Selkirk, our SOT, whom I now count among my good friends.

e-veritas: Where did you serve? You completed post graduate studies at MIT.

Dan Olechowski: I finished AERE Phase IV after grad and was posted to Trenton. I was there for three years and then did AERE post-grad at MIT for two years. Using an airplane wing in a wind tunnel on MIT campus, I studied the aerodynamics of computation fluid dynamics. Back in 1983, computer modelling was done on a PDP 11! That was a big challenge; no more spoon-feeding! (My second oldest daughter, Alison, a Queen’s engineer, is doing her PhD in Mech Eng. at MIT now.) After that, 3 years doing flight test engineering at AETE Cold Lake, in the early days of the CF-18 program. Then 2 years in the CF-18 Program Management Office in Ottawa as a Major.

e-veritas: You worked with a number of ex-cadets during your second career, after leaving the CF.

Dan Olechowski: It’s funny you ask about my “second career”? I guess I’m on about my 6th or 7th by now! Left the CF in 1988 to be Program Manager, New Airplanes at deHavilland in Toronto, then owned by Boeing. Recruited away by Raychem, a really wonderful California-based company, where several classmates already worked: 11639 Paul Detering, 11829 Peter Nixon, 11713 Bruce Rogers, 13766 Konrad Mech. I became a salesman, selling telephone and cable TV outside plant equipment, with accounts all across Canada. I loved Sales! My telephone company customers always asked how airplanes flew.

In 1997-98 I did some consulting for 11721 Larry Stevenson at Chapters, learning all about the new world of e-commerce. Amazon.com was a brash start–up, and Larry wanted to sell books online too. He had a lot of MBAs working for him, former McKinsey and Bain consultants; a lot of really bright and ambitious Type As. I felt out of my league. I had a bit of cash and thought I would invest in Amazon, but those guys laughed at me and said the business model was flawed and would never scale up, so I didn’t invest. The stock was at $27 or something then. (I found out later that some of those guys did invest, and made a killing.) But no crying over missed opportunities. I then ran the Canadian business of another telecom equipment manufacturer, then got recalled to Raychem, by then owned by Tyco. OK, there’s my rambling soliloquy. More than you bargained for! Don.

One Comment

  • E.P. McLolughlin

    March 3, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    Thanks Victoria for continuing to do these stories as they provide the colour and filling to our College times, plus a glimpse of the interesting lives so many Ex-Cadets have led over the years.

    Please keep it up.

    Peter