"100% South Dakotan"
SDSEO executive director since 2011, Eric Ollila is 100% South Dakotan. His father and mother were from rural and “in-town,” respectively, Newell, S.D. Ollila was born in Rapid City, S.D., and graduated high school from Brandon Valley High School in Brandon, S.D.
Ollila's other professional and academic backgrounds are in communications, publishing, and journalism. He has a bachelor’s and a master’s in English, both with a creative-writing emphasis and both from the University of South Dakota.
Prior to coming to the South Dakota State Employees Organization, Ollila was a state employee for four and a half years at South Dakota State University—he was the publication coordinator-editor at SDSU’s College of Agriculture & Biological Sciences, and handled the official, academic and outreach publishing and editing, hard copy and electronic, for the College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences, the Cooperative Extension Service, and the Agricultural Experiment Station.
Prior to SDSU, Ollila worked in journalism, beginning at the Huron Plainsman as a part-time sports reporter and concluding his career as the managing editor of the Winner Advocate. Prior to obtaining his bachelor’s degree in 1998, Ollila was a laborer, working primarily in Sioux Falls industrial factories.
Now in his 11th year as executive director, and soon to be entering his 11th legislative session as the SDSEO's only lobbyist, Ollila says working on behalf of the SDSEO and state employees has been both fast and fulfilling. "I had never worked in politics and in the field of government policy before the SDSEO brought me on and welcomed me, but I had a passion and drive to succeed for the SDSEO and for all state government employees," he said. "I felt like I parachuted into the State Capitol as a first-time lobbyist and executive director. But being fast on your feet and getting things done right are basically trademarked by the SDSEO, so we charged ahead and got things done, and right. And we've done the same hard-working thing now for every session, and we're looking to do the same every darn day."