Harken (b. 1938) grew up in the Philippines and emigrated to the U.S. to attend Georgia Tech where he graduated with a degree in industrial engineering , became a U.S. citizen, and joined the Navy. After a tour in Vietnam he joined brother Peter in Wisconsin as founder of Vanguard Boats in 1967.
Olaf gained recognition as the preeminent builder of many one-design dinghies and Olympic-class boats. In building his own hardware for the boats he also started Harken in 1968. After selling the boat building concern in 1985 to concentrate on hardware, the Harken name became synonymous with manufacturing innovative equipment for which his company continues to receive recognition with the 2000 DAME Marine Company of the Decade award.
Ever the innovator and leader, Olaf won a Popular Science Award in 1991 for his 65-foot concept racer Procyon, intended as an inspiration to the boat building community. In addition to his duties as president of Harken he is Vice Commodore of the 100-year-old Inland Lake Sailing Association, which has 44 member yacht clubs dedicated to scow racing. He is also the founding President of Sail America.