Art of the Deal
This retiring salesman used a career’s worth of company connections to trade up to his dream boat—and take a dream cruise.
By Kim Kavin — February 2004
When Ken Olsen was 35, he joined the staff of a pharmaceutical-equipment sales company. The money, the pace, the lifestyle—it was all quite a change for him.
“I was a schoolteacher,” he says. “I was poor. I never lived on a lake, never lived on the ocean. Closest I ever came to water was a swimming hole, one of those ‘past the cornfield, nobody knows where it is’ deals.”
But he acclimated quite nicely. After five years of living in Rockland County, New York, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, he was among the company’s top salesmen. He’d gotten a taste of the boating life while water-skiing with friends in the Adirondacks, and he sure liked it. He thought his clients might like it, too.
‘Round about 1983, he made the sales pitch of his life—to his own boss. “‘I’ll tell you what,’” he recalls saying. “‘I’ll go buy a boat, and you enter into a charter agreement with me to entertain clients.’” After some finagling and number-crunching, the boss took the bait. It was decided that Olsen would pay for the boat and liability insurance, and the company would reimburse him for everything else: a licensed captain, dockage, fuel, food, booze.
The deal done, Olsen bought a 43-foot Wellcraft Portofino, named her (what else?) Serendipity, and began what would become a second career of sorts, using his company connection to help him trade up. Today, he is poised to begin full retirement with his dream boat, a brand-new Tiara 5200.
Sure, he thinks boating is a lot of fun, but not quite as much fun as the thrill he’s had in the sport of boat-buying over the years.
He remembers driving to New Jersey to pick up the Wellcraft with his captain. “It was the first day I ever had my hands on the controls of a boat,” he recalls. During his first year of ownership, Olsen took the captain with him on every trip. That helped him do two things: learn how to operate his boat and entertain his clients along the way.
This article originally appeared in the January 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.