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.

Executive Q&A with Gus Simonds: Building Resilience

Executive Q&A with Gus Simonds: Building Resilience

The president and CEO of MacDonald-Miller Facility Solutions likes adventure. His background in selling (and sailing) has helped him steer a confident course.
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Gus Simonds and his management team took the helm at MacDonald-Miller in 2006. The Great Recession hit two years later. By focusing on services and increasingly complex projects, the mechanical contractor survived, then thrived, doubling business since 2012. 

The company now has 1,000 employees and boasts $260 million in annual revenue.

EARLY YEARS: I grew up in the western suburbs of Chicago. My father worked as an insurance executive. He’s a natural leader and taught me to sail. Mom was an award-winning botanical artist. She grew up in Chelan, and visiting Washington state got me hooked on the adventure the wilderness offers. I often went bird watching with Mom. I was a bit of a science nerd and would devour nature books and field guides and collect small creatures as pets. 

EDUCATION: Lured by the West, I went to Washington State University to study environmental science. I drove my 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass back and forth from Pullman to Chicago many times. The WSU experience taught me self-reliance and the power of perseverance. I was 2,000 miles from home, and there was no electronic banking or texting. When your car broke, you fixed it.  

CAREER: After college, I tried finding a job in hazardous-waste management — sexy stuff! — but ended up with a sales job at Honeywell selling building mechanical systems, service and retrofits. Other people hated cold calling; I thought it was fun. You get paid to make friends — sweet!

MACDONALD-MILLER: Five years later, in 1989, I wanted to get back to the Northwest and took the first job I could get in Seattle doing service and special projects sales at MacDonald-Miller. I hadn’t planned to stay, but once I started at the company, I could tell MacDonald-Miller was a special place with great opportunities.

THE BUSINESS: We make buildings work better by designing and installing or retrofitting HVAC systems [for heating and cooling], plumbing systems and control systems so that buildings can keep operating at peak performance. We are also doing a lot more building efficiency analysis to help owners evaluate the cost and benefit of improving their systems to save on energy bills while also increasing tenant comfort. 

CHANGE: When the recession hit, for five years it was the school of hard knocks. With a diverse range of clientele, we began focusing on services. Since 2012, we have grown by about 20 percent a year. This year, with more than 1,000 employees, we will be twice the size we were in 2012.

CULTURE: Our company culture is our internal brand — it’s what makes you want to come to work at MacDonald-Miller. You look for ways to put a smile on the faces of your customers and colleagues. We have 40 shareholders who all work at the company and are required to sell their stock if they leave. We preach silo busting and collaboration daily. The goal is having long-term employees who can see how what they do can make a difference to the company and to our customers. 

TECHNOLOGY: There are huge IT opportunities like finding new uses for 3D modeling and better managing our mobile workforce of several hundred. Putting new systems in place is a challenge, so we hired a CIO last year to take that on. We now see IT not as a cost but as a way to provide a competitive advantage.

FUTURE: We are now in the early stages of involvement in two of the largest projects Seattle has seen in its history — the expansion of the Washington State Convention Center and the transformation of Swedish Medical Center First Hill. Both projects will be completed in the next four years. Our strengthened “big project” reputation hopefully will help us win other signature projects. We are also putting a renewed emphasis on energy efficiency and building performance. That work has taken us to other regions, like Canada and the Caribbean. I think we could do well in San Francisco. 

COMPETITION: I have great respect for McKinstry and some of my other competitors. We all run on thin margins, especially compared to the risks we take around the accountability of system design, long-term performance and cost. In some projects, we may have 10,000 water-pipe connections. It’s a big problem if there is even one leak. One thing McDonald-Miller has become known for doing right is having teams from across all trades that can execute on the most complex systems. It goes back to culture and attracting and keeping the best talent. 

MANAGEMENT: My worst mistakes came from thinking that people could evolve into a new role because I wanted them to rather than really testing their ability and vision first. Those mistakes are always messy for both parties.  My proudest achievement was staying financially healthy through a very long recession. We learned a lot and became a better company through that experience. 

EXECUTIVE Q+A RESPONSES HAVE BEEN EDITED AND CONDENSED.

TAKE 5: Get to Know Gus Simonds
1. GO-TO GETAWAY:
The Lake Chelan area. “It’s my launch pad for adventure. Nothing beats a glass of wine at a winery while you plan your next adventure.” 

2. FAVORITE BOOK: Lake Chelan: The Greatest Lake In The World by John Fahey.

3. MOST ADMIRED PERSON: Richard Branson. “He puts his culture and employees up front as part of his brand. He bucks tradition. He’s an adventurer. He sucks the marrow out of life!”

4. I LOVE: Mountain biking, golfing, fly fishing, backpacking, snowboarding, collecting antique beer cans, playing guitar. 

5. CURRENT WHEELS: A Chevy Volt, a Toyota pickup and a 1973 455 “big block” Hurst/Olds. “I’ve had an Oldsmobile since high school, including several Cutlass 442s, and it’s a bit of my personal brand now. There’s no substitute for cubic inches.”