- Associated Press - Thursday, September 24, 2015

GILLETTE, Wyo. (AP) - Olin Oedekoven has always wanted to make a difference.

It’s the motivation that led the popular hometown game warden to give up the red shirt as a wildlife biologist after 20 years in 2005.

It’s what led the 55-year-old Gillette native to be chosen as commander of the Wyoming Army National Guard at a time when reserve troops from the state were regularly being sent to posts in Iraq and Afghanistan. He enlisted in the South Dakota National Guard in 1978 and then retired as a brigadier general in the Wyoming National Guard in 2011.

It was his experience in the National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve that gave him the inspiration to start his leadership development and consulting business.

And that led him to work in the basement of his home to develop a business with partner Cliff Knesel that took just an instant to initiate at a dinner back in 2003. That’s when they realized they essentially wanted to develop the same type of business with the same purpose.

The beginnings of the Peregrine Leadership Institute LLC were shaky, Knesel said. At times over that first six to eight months, it was touch-and-go, he recalls.

That’s sometimes expected with a new business, Oedekoven said. They went through the normal growing pains. Statistically, businesses that become “overnight successes” take an average of five years, he pointed out.

Peregrine was turning a net profit within four years.

Now that business is succeeding beyond their expectations.

Neither of them saw Peregrine’s global reach and impact internationally stretching outward from its Gillette headquarters. He and co-workers call the business “Peregrine Global” now, and its success is a lesson for local entrepreneurs who want to reach beyond this small northeastern Wyoming town.

They certainly didn’t forecast Peregrine adapting to a changing world with the start of its academic services division, something the falcon the business is appropriately named after also has a reputation for.

Yet, more than a decade later, making a difference is still the thread that motivates Oedekoven as he guides a two-pronged, multi-million dollar business operating in 35 countries and has 289 client universities through its academic services arm alone.

BUSINESS WITH A PURPOSE

Oedekoven’s focus isn’t on the money.

It never is.

It’s on the value he finds in improving the world and bettering the lives of others.

“I know that sounds corny, but his passion and drive is to make the world a better place,” said co-owner Debbie Robbins, a former Gillette resident whose office is in Mudgee, New South Wales, Australia, although she returns to Gillette for one week each quarter to conduct business.

It’s one of nine offices for Peregrine in and outside the U.S. Those addresses include Gillette; Washington, D.C.; Kansas City, Missouri; Dallas, Texas; Melbourne, Australia; Vienna, Austria; Zurich, Switzerland; and Mongolia.

Peregrine also can be found in partnership offices in India and Africa.

There’s one thing that ties it all together besides the Internet, Skype, GotoMeeting and telephones.

“Olin’s passion and his energy are contagious,” Robbins said.

“He’s not in this to make money. That’s not the purpose,” she said. “He’s in this because it’s the right thing to do, making people’s lives better. That philosophy is rare.”

It’s also the cornerstone of the company’s global reach, established in his upbringing and values honed in Gillette, Wyoming. His grandparents homesteaded north of Gillette and he grew up on a ranch about 12 miles north of the community.

He graduated from Spearfish High School in South Dakota in 1978. He started working for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department in 1983 as he worked on his master’s project on Columbian sharp-tailed grouse near Baggs. In the fall of 1988, after working in various parts of Wyoming, he returned home to take over the position of district wildlife biologist.

Even back then, he became known for his drive and energy. It’s what continues to be something of a trademark.

“His energy is contagious and his intention for changing the world, it just kind of grabs you and sucks you in,” Robbins said. “He wants to live his values doing the right thing for the right reason.”

And that translates through the eight languages Peregrine does business in, including British English.

About a decade ago, Knesel approached her about joining Peregrine. “He said we want to have fun and we want to make the world a better place,” she recalled. “If we’re having a bad day, Olin is the one who reminds us of that.”

FELL INTO THIS

It was Oedekoven, co-owner and CEO of Peregrine, who came up with the idea of expanding the business into academic services. You might call it an accidental brainstorm boosted by good timing.

His wife, Laurel Vicklund, also is a co-owner and COO of Peregrine Academic Services.

The brainstorm that launched this side of the business is an indication of how Oedekoven views the world and the gift it provides.

He had earned his second master’s degree at Northcentral University in business management, where he also earned a doctorate. He specialized in business administration and public administration, and completed a post-doctoral program in human resource management.

Then he taught online courses through Northcentral. It was there in 2009 that he was asked to help with the university’s accreditation process.

It was a task he didn’t find worthwhile. The documents were antiquated and the process didn’t make much common sense. It certainly was no help to teaching or improving the program.

“I was a vocal critic where I said, ‘This is stupid,’” Oedekoven said.

That’s when the dean challenged him for a solution instead of complaints.

“You get me an RFP (request for proposal) and I’ll do that,” he remembers responding.

From that inspiration, he launched academic services, which produced updated accreditation documents and helps guide universities and colleges nationally through the process.

From the start, those efforts intertwined well with the other half of the company focused on developing leadership.

Then his company expanded its efforts globally as colleges and universities in other countries worked to improve in what is often a highly politicized process.

Now, Peregrine also provides online higher education exams in business administration, accounting and finance, early childhood education, health-care administration, general education, criminal justice and public administration degree programs.

Peregrine also offers higher education consulting services and leadership programs, a writing program and assists with strategic planning, staff and faculty development, among other programs.

It’s just an example of the gift Oedekoven brings to Peregrine and one reason it has flourished globally.

“His gift is research and development,” Robbins said. “It’s listening to clients and seeing their needs.”

In the academic services, for example, “he saw a need but others were not attentive. He’s always looking for opportunities, an unfilled need that we can do something about,” she said.

Among projects Peregrine has launched is writing textbooks (it published two this year and hopes to have a third soon), offering online courses that universities and colleges can customize as their own (something like an MBA in a box) and more.

“Olin has poured his heart and soul into the academic services,” said Knesel, who retired “when we were getting so big I couldn’t keep track of it anymore.” That was in 2011.

“I knew some day it would grow. But Olin has taken it to a whole new scale,” Knesel said.

GLOBAL REACH

It takes just one look at Peregrine’s meeting room to realize that.

Taking center stage is a map of the world, with dots indicating Peregrine’s clients each year. At weekly staff meetings, there are dot ceremonies to welcome new clients. They’re each indicated by a certain color, green for 2013, blue for 2014 and yellow for 2015.

It’s a tool he uses to remind his 30 employees about their focus. Those dots, essentially, are not dots at all.

“As I stare at the map, I don’t see dots,” Oedekoven said. “I see friends and personal connections for all of them and somebody on this team.”

The same meeting room includes leather artwork from Mongolia that relates to a folktale about working and communicating with others. It features a monkey and elephant.

“The moral of it is to remind the team about the impact and obligation we have around the world,” Oedekoven said. “If we want to improve the quality of higher education, it’s not just the school we work with, but utilizing the community. We’re shaping culture and shaping lives around the world.”

There’s no doubt of that. In 2013, Peregrine passed a milestone of having 100,000 online services it provided since 2009. In just two years, the company is approaching 400,000 services, Oedekoven said.

Most of the schools using Peregrine’s online services are in the U.S., about 200. The others are located in 35 countries, with the newest clients including universities in Ecuador, Columbia and the U.S.

The company’s impact goes even beyond that.

“Most of it, to me, is the discovery of how many right answers there are in the world. We don’t necessarily have the right answer, but the right answers are out there,” Oedekoven said. “That’s why we’re successful in a global arena. We really try not to force our solution on other countries. We listen and shape our services around those needs we’re hearing.”

Oedekoven was in Vienna on Friday helping to build an institutional accreditation organization (a nonprofit association of universities) in Europe that later will move to cover Africa, east Asia and possibly India. It’s work he sees as vital to improving higher education in those nations.

“The work is, in large part, the culminating expression of the past 10 years in higher education and leadership and it truly exemplifies the vision I had for myself over 10 years ago as I was leaving the (Wyoming) Game and Fish Department,” he said. “The team we have is truly remarkable - some 30 employees and partners located throughout the world to embrace and share our passion for making a difference.”

He dubs his co-workers Team Peregrine, and he said they ignite and incite his passion. It’s their influence that has helped a Gillette company soar globally and spread Oedekoven’s values around the world.

It’s something he steps back and marvels at sometimes.

“I think that business-wise in Gillette, we tend to think so locally. I think our success can perhaps inspire others to think more broadly and perhaps globally regarding the services and products they provide,” he said.

“Sometimes, I think we tend to ‘underestimate’ ourselves as ‘just’ from Gillette or Wyoming. I think our success with Peregrine Global illustrates that there’s no such thing as ‘just from Gillette.’”

Robbins said she had that similar a-ha moment - the realization of what Peregrine has become - during the annual meeting in Gillette earlier this year.

“I was looking around the room and I said, ‘Stop. Look around the room and all the countries that are represented. Do you realize what we’ve accomplished?’ It’s amazing.”

No matter the size of the business or its accomplishments, though, it’s still all about making a difference for Oedekoven.

That, ultimately, is where he finds his greatest reward - one person, one business, one nation at a time.

___

Information from: The Gillette (Wyo.) News Record, https://www.gillettenewsrecord.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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