Real Success with Nate Kaeding: Ann Oleson

Sponsored by MidWestOne Bank, this is the latest edition of the CBJ’s new podcast feature with Nate Kaeding and notable Iowa business and cultural leaders, available first to CBJ members. Listen to this episode below, and subscribe on SpotifyiTunesGoogle PlayStitcher and SoundCloud.


Ann Oleson is the chief marketing officer of Ruffalo Noel Levitz, a consulting solutions firm that specializes in higher learning institutions and nonprofits.

Ann founded Converge here in the Corridor, a higher education marketing agency that was just acquired by RNL. Converge became known for tech proficiency and innovation… difference makers for colleges and universities trying to find their next generations of alumni.

I talked to Ann about her business success, which started at Von Maur and quickly lead to national accolades as the innovator behind the helm of one of the fastest growing businesses in the country.

Ann also talks about the importance of making a lasting impression, becoming a tech guru when tech isn’t your background and the art of virtual sales.

I learned a lot and I think you will, too.

Talk about how you got your beginning in the marketing industry. Where did that begin to intersect with education? 

I started my career right out of college with the executive training program for Von Maur. That is where I cut my teeth as far as customer service and retail. I had the opportunity to work in the stores and then in the Von Maur center for about three years. We had the opportunity to grow from 17 to 22 stores while I was there. When we moved to Cedar Rapids, I started working in higher education.

After Von Maur, I moved to Cedar Rapids and have just enjoyed through Junior League getting to know many people in Cedar Rapids and absolutely loved the opportunity to work nationally for a higher education company. That was a great experience. I traveled almost every week and had a lot of neat experiences at different colleges and got to see a lot of the United States. In 2011, I started a digital marketing company with kind of a dream and a piece of paper as the only employee at that point in time and built that to become a successful organization. When we were acquired by Ruffalo Noel Levitz, we were about eight years in and had made the Inc. 5000 list several times and had the opportunity to grow with the digital marketing experience. It’s been great working in the Corridor and living here as well.

Customer service intertwines with marketing in the sense of knowing what someone needs, what problems you’re helping them to solve and putting yourself in their shoes. Do you have any stories or universal truths that you picked up from your days at Von Maur?

I would say that the customer service was always number one at Von Maur. One other thing I still use with my kids and my employees that work today is making a lasting impression. Listen to the customer, apologize if they’re upset, solve the problem and then thank them for bringing it forward. Over the last 30 years, that’s really helped me in business and in life.

Read the full interview with Ann Oleson in the Feb. 22 print or digital editions of the CBJ. Not a CBJ member? Join today.