Michael D. Olsen, professor emeritus of hospitality and tourism management in the Pamplin College of Business, died March 20 in Blacksburg.

The founding head of Virginia Tech’s hospitality and tourism management department, Olsen served in that capacity from 1987 to 1992 and helped guide it to its current status as one of the premier programs in the world, said department head Rick Perdue. Olsen’s “vision, unrelenting commitment to excellence, strategic leadership, and success in recruiting a world-class faculty” laid the foundation for the department’s successes, Perdue said.

Olsen earned a doctorate in business at Virginia Tech in 1980 and an MBA and a bachelor’s degree at Michigan State University. His research interests were in organizational effectiveness, in particular, strategic and financial management in the global hospitality industry. He was one of four Pamplin faculty members ranked among the world’s top scholars in the discipline, according to a study in the August 2011 Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Research. He was listed among the top 50 tourism scholars in a study in the December 2008 Tourism Management Journal.

Olsen, who retired in 2007, taught as an adjunct faculty member during the spring and fall semesters in 2009. A dedicated teacher, he introduced thousands of Virginia Tech students to the principles of strategic management and finance in the hospitality industry. “Mike was a demanding teacher and mentor who refused to accept mediocre work,” Perdue said. “I cannot estimate the number of former students who have told me that Mike’s classes were the most challenging, important, and substantive learning opportunities of their Virginia Tech experience.”

As founding president of the International Academy of Hospitality Research, Olsen fostered the worldwide development of research and graduate education in strategic management of hospitality organizations. He contributed significantly to the field of hospitality management strategy though numerous research papers, reviews, and book chapters. He was an active member in professional organizations that included the International Council for Hospitality, Restaurant, and Institutional Education and the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

Perdue also recalled Olsen’s strong support of him as department head, noting that he offered excellent advice as well as constructive criticism. “Mike truly made a difference in the lives of his students and colleagues. All of us are better for having worked with him.” 

Funeral arrangements are being handled by McCoy Funeral Home in Blacksburg. Condolences may be sent to Olsen’s widow, Sandy Olsen, at 4540 Nature’s Way Rd., Blacksburg, VA 24060. Condolences may also be sent to the Olsen family via email to Melissa Dietrich of the Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management.

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