Olin Finds Right Solution

December 27, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — Todd Olin celebrated a birthday five days before Christmas.

Legend has it that those with birthdays so close to the biggest gift-giving day of the year get, well, shafted, and end up receiving fewer gifts than, say, those born in May. But that hasn't been the experience for him.

"It's never been that way. Everybody has over-compensated for it," said Olin.

And what makes that day a bit more special for him — and maybe guarantees him a few more gifts — is that his wife, Niki, also was born on Dec. 20.

"That was the icebreaker when we met," he said.

Olin and his partner, Keisha Westbrook, whose birthday isn't on Dec. 20, started a new business last August after both worked for years at Williams & Works Inc. Their company, Land Development Solutions, helps developers, architects and builders develop commercial and residential projects with civil engineering and land planning services.

"Business has been much better than we could have ever dreamed. We're at least double our projection. We started with just my partner and I, and now we're at five people," said Olin from his office in the TrustBuilding at

40 Pearl St. NW

"The client list has expanded significantly. It's been wonderful."

Olin is responsible for business development and human resources at the firm, while Westbrook heads the engineering division. One of the biggest projects the company has is the new Celebration Cinema being built by Jack Loeks Theatres. The 16-screen movie house is going up near the South Beltline at

Kalamazoo Avenue
and
60th Street
in GainesTownship

C.D. Barnes & Co. will manage the construction, while Land Development Solutions is doing the civil engineering work on it.

"They're shooting for Thanksgiving of '05, which is an incredibly aggressive schedule," said Olin of the cinema's planned opening.

To say that Olin is grateful for where he is today would be an understatement and there are two reasons why. A close friend loaned him the money to start the business and the only thing he has asked for in return is complete anonymity.

"He didn't go as far to want a partnership or stock. He is just using it as an investment, which made it very easy for us to get started. The interest rate on the borrowed money was very low," he said.

"That was, bar none, my largest career break and the one I'm most grateful for. I wish I could name him, but he remains very adamant about not being named."

It's not the only break, though, that Olin fully appreciates. He is extremely thankful that he was able to spend nine years at Williams & Works, a surveying and civil engineering firm where he was able to advance his managerial talents.

"Williams & Works gave me a great leg up when I was a CAD designer. It's uncommon to put a designer in a project management leadership role and they did that for me. I'm very grateful for that, as well, as they gave me the opportunity to expand my horizons and my career," he said.

"In Grand Rapids, I can only think of two people who this has happened to, myself and one other person. In both cases it has been very successful and I'm very grateful for that opportunity."

It was his dad, though, who sparked his interest in engineering. Ronald Olin graduated from the General Motors Institute but didn't practice civil engineering as he spent his career working for IBM. Still, he urged Todd to take drafting courses in high school and then enroll in the two-year engineering drafting program at the KentSkillsCenter. Olin's time there was evenly split between the board and the computer — back when CAD was in its infancy — and for good reason.

"The reason I got into CAD was because I was doing hand drafting. My drafting teacher looked over my shoulder and told me that I really ought to think about computers because my lettering was so poor," he said, laughing. "So that's how I got into computers."

Olin started right out of high school as a surveyor in 1987, taking measurements for the first incarnation of Williams & Works. Then he did computerized drafting and eventually got into product development.

"I love starting from scratch with raw land or an expansion project, and being involved all the way through completion and occupancy. It's very satisfying to see something through to the end," he said.

At this time of the year, Olin is a hockey dad, devoting much of his free time to his son's on-ice pursuits. Twelve–year-old Zach is sharpening his skills as a wing in a traveling league this year, so Olin finds himself getting up early on weekends and hitting the highway often before the sun comes up. His 7-year-old daughter Samantha, known as Sam and Peanut, is athletic, too. She is a gymnast and he is a faithful fan. Jessica, the oldest child at 17, is finishing up high school.

Olin's wife, Niki, is an occupational therapist at Spectrum Health, a field she entered after graduating college.

Olin has been ecstatic with the early returns that are coming in from the firm he started with Westbrook just months ago, and has no regrets in taking the often-anxious leap from employee to employer.

As for his immediate business future, he sees the company continuing to work on some of the more exciting real estate projects in the area.

"We're at five people now, which was an incredible growth in the first six months. So we're looking at bearing down now with the people we have and working for the next two years with the resources we have," he said.

"When we hire a person we basically hire a family member, and there has been a great deal of satisfaction in knowing that they're helping Land Development Solutions succeed. Land Development Solutions, in return, owes these people a full-time position so they can provide for their families. It's really neat."    

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