Executive Q&A: Maud Daudon, President/CEO, Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce

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EARLY YEARS: I grew up outside Chicago, where my father was a corporate lawyer. He loved the law, and was a huge participant in civic life—very involved in United Way. My mother was on the board of Planned Parenthood for years. My parents were both Republicans in the days when Republicans were centrists, like Dan Evans. We worked hard on Chuck Percy’s campaign for governor [in 1964]. At 8, I remember singing and waving at the crowds while the campaign song blared out of the loudspeaker on the roof of the station wagon. I was totally into it.

EDUCATION: I went to Hampshire College [in Massachusetts], which focused on experiential learning. It was then an all-female boarding school where it was assumed women were equal to men. The only thing under discussion was what are you going to do to save the world?

CITY PLANNING: For my senior thesis, I spent nine months in the Methow Valley waitressing to feed myself while I interviewed tons of people about a proposed ski resort. It came down to “how to avoid going the way of Eagle Valley around Vail [Colorado].” I was inspired by the people at the county planning office, who published a zoning ordinance [to regulate growth]. Proponents of development broke into the office, stole all the copies and burned them on the front lawn of the courthouse. It was dramatic.

FIRST JOB: I got a job in Corvallis, Oregon, working with a commission of downtown leaders to help save downtown. There was a threat of an outside shopping center robbing downtown of its vitality. They changed the zoning [to thwart the development]. They also built a bypass for truck traffic and brought new shopping downtown. The effort was successful. The chair of the commission who used to mentor me told me after two years: “You need to get an MBA because you don’t have a clue about economics or finance. You think these decisions are made on a policy basis. Wrong. It’s all economics.”

BUSINESS: I knew my weakness was quantitative stuff, so I studied finance at the Yale School of Public and Private Management, which is about public management as well as private and nonprofit management. They advocate the idea that your life should be spent moving among the different sectors to have the biggest impact.

BASKETBALL ARENA: In terms of the [proposed arena’s] economic impact on the city, it’s probably about a wash. I think the issue is more about the emotional and civic pride of the city. We suffered a loss as a city with the Sonics’ departure, and here we have [from Chris Hansen] a fairly generous proposal. If we are unable to make that work, it feels to people, rightly or wrongly, that once again we haven’t gone where we need to go. The question for the city is: How do you balance all the competing needs in South Downtown? We have an existing problem with freight mobility in that area, arena or no arena. We will have pressure whether it’s this proposal or another to have an arena because that’s what a lot of people want. We will also have pressure to develop South Downtown. As a chamber, we see ourselves as a convener to help get everyone on the same page. We have to figure out how to solve all of the congestion issues and get ahead of the problem. I think world-class cities figure out ways to make accommodations. We are a smart, innovative city. I would hope we could find a way to get a win-win out of this.

SEATTLE CHAMBER: The chamber’s mission is to achieve economic health and growth as a region, while not sacrificing the wonderful place we live and making sure everybody has access, and we don’t leave anybody behind. If you are fractured on any of those points, you don’t have a healthy business community. To thrive, you have to take care of things like infrastructure, education, health care. We are very eager to have a transportation funding package put through our Legislature and funded. Not just roads. Transit is also a big part of that. In the education area, there are multiple groups that are working on initiatives that are jelling and will need our oomph to give them support.

PERSONAL GOALS: There is no one thing we need to accomplish. It’s the integration of many things. Cities are like giant organisms. They evolve and move. The chamber is in the heart of this organism, constantly watching and getting informed about efforts and always evolving in ways consistent with our agenda.

WATERFRONT: Everything connects to everything else. The seawall is fundamental to public safety. It’s about protecting buildings, it’s essential. The waterfront is going to be a 20-year effort to totally build out that vision. And it will come in phases. It’s a huge opportunity for the city to face the water very differently, to develop a place where people love to walk, bike, play and shop.

THREATS TO DOWNTOWN: I’m getting e-mails once or twice a week from businesses distressed by the tenor of activity on the streets. It’s not just panhandling. It’s an array of behaviors that put off customers and make customers more apt to be reticent to spend time in downtown Seattle. We were a big supporter of [City Council member] Tim Burgess’ measure [to limit panhandling] that the council passed and the mayor vetoed. We are hoping that an ordinance will come down the pike that will help address these concerns.

THE FUTURE: People sometimes ask how come Seattle can’t get anything done. But, in fact, we are getting things done. Look at South Lake Union. Look at the tunnel and 520, winning the supertanker and getting the 787 program. We are getting big things done but we just aren’t recognizing it. I think [the city] is on the cusp of reaching a different level, and we need to seize that opportunity. We are the envy of a lot of other regions. Because we have Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon, Nordstrom, Starbucks and REI all headquartered here, we have a brand and recognition when we go overseas. To seize the day, we need to educate people so they can take all the jobs that those companies create. We need to make sure that we build infrastructure to keep transportation lines open so that goods and services can get out of here to other parts of the world. I think shame on us if we don’t do that. But we are doing it and that’s encouraging.

The Outsider’s Perspective at Bartell Drugs

The Outsider’s Perspective at Bartell Drugs

Brian Unmacht, the first non-Bartell to run Bartell Drugs, knows his mission is to keep the family-owned business relevant in the face of stiff competition.
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Brian Unmacht spent six years working at his father’s drugstore company and, after college, 27 years at REI, before becoming only the fourth CEO in Bartell Drugs’ 126-year history. Now he’s intent on using local partnerships to make Bartell a strong competitor to the national drugstore chains. 

FAMILY: My father had been an executive at the Bon Marché. In the 1970s, he formed his own chain of small drugstores in rural areas. I spent six years in high school and college working for my dad and eventually managed one of his stores. We were a $20 million business and I computerized the record keeping and did the finances and everything. It was a sort of love/hate thing because you could never separate the business from the family. But I appreciate having had a chance to work with my dad. In 1980, 19 percent interest rates and the recession did us in. We had loyal customers, but customers still went for price and selection when grocery stores started competing with us.

TRAVEL: After college, I spent a year backpacking in Nepal and Pakistan and skiing in Europe. When I returned, I had no money, so I went to work for REI. They had seven stores and a catalog and were beginning to expand beyond the Northwest. I managed the Tempe store in Arizona, opened the Chicago store and then worked on the store in Japan as vice president of international. That was an exciting time.

RETAIL: In the ’80s, it was Walmart that dramatically changed retail as it sourced overseas. In the last 15 years, it’s been Amazon. You’re always going to have disrupters. It comes down to how do you keep yourself relevant? In the recession of 2009, the number of paddling and canoe shops in the country dropped to 1,500 from 2,500. With fewer distribution points, vendors like North Face were trying to increase web sales. At REI, our value proposition was to provide expertise and credibility. North Face would give REI an exclusive for a certain time because of that. It was a win-win.

BARTELL DRUGS: I’ve come full circle. Now I am back in the drugstore space. We are up against $120 billion retailers like Walgreens and CVS. How do we find unique products and services that they can’t carry in their 8,000 stores? We offer assortments of local candy like Theo or Seattle Chocolates. We partnered with Snoqualmie Ice Cream to sell our own brand. At our Bellevue store, we offer scooped ice cream. If you go to Fourth and Madison downtown, we have a partnership with Caffé Vita for the espresso, and with other local vendors for sandwiches and other food offerings.

BEER: Bartell always sold beer but it tended to be Budweiser and Heineken. We put in a beverage buyer who had a passion around craft beer and empowered him to form partnerships. Now we have a partnership with Two Beers Brewing Co. to do a Tangerine IPA limited run. Last year, we did Bartell Spring Elixir with Fremont Brewing. We have 150 partnerships with other locally owned firms.

FAMILY BUSINESS: There have only been three top executives [before me] at Bartell’s over 126 years and they were all named George Bartell. Being family owned, we’re part of the community and take the long view. I tell employees that’s not enough to be relevant. There are a lot of family-owned businesses that fail. 

OUTSIDER: The family put together an outside board five years ago to get a wider point of view and I was put on the board. The family recognized there was going to be a gap before the five cousins in the fourth generation were ready to manage the company. That’s why they brought me in as the first outside manager. With revenues of $500 million and growing, management was also getting more challenging. Evelyn Merrill, the oldest of the cousins, is senior marketing manager. She has a lot of good ideas and is challenging the third generation in terms of her view of the brand.

STORES: We have 62 stores. We are talking about adding two to three stores a year. Today, we’re primarily in King and Snohomish counties, but I want to look at Whatcom [County], Bellingham, Poulsbo, Bainbridge Island and potentially farther south. With the Walgreen/Rite Aid merger, some Rite Aid stores will probably be divested. If the right stores came on the market, we would be interested. The Greater Seattle area is still booming, and with more density there is room to put a lot more drugstores in convenient places. 

HEALTH CARE: We do flu shots now, but we are looking at providing other immunizations as well as testing for strep throat or flu so that you don’t need to go to your primary care doctor every time. Because of our concentration of stores in Greater Seattle, our share of the pharmacy business is right up there with Walgreens. It’s important that we have that scale to work with the insurance plans. We had a pilot program to have Group Health clinics in 25 of our locations, and Kaiser [which is acquiring Group Health] seems interested in continuing the concept.

COST OF DOING BUSINESS: I worry that in five years, if Seattle’s not booming anymore, what does it mean if you’ve raised the fixed cost [by raising the minimum wage]? But I worry less about the minimum wage than the growing congestion issue. I have 2,000 employees who live all over the Puget Sound region. We have to move freight around. Congestion is a bigger and bigger issue. 

EXECUTIVE Q+A RESPONSES HAVE BEEN EDITED AND CONDENSED.