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

| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

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.

Have no Fear [and other helpful suggestions from successful women.]

Have no Fear [and other helpful suggestions from successful women.]

How these enterprising women defied the odds and achieved success.
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 
 
Adriane Brown is comfortable being uncomfortable. Roxie Schescke gains more by letting go. Megan Meade doesn’t believe asking for help is a shortcoming.
 
These women have used those life lessons in their trajectories to the top of a competitive business world in which women have been characterized as being “everywhere and nowhere.” It’s a male-dominated environment that to this day still preserves a glaring gender gap, widespread discrimination and a lack of diversity.
 
Brown, Schescke and Meade belong to a growing sisterhood of successful businesswomen who combine creativity and courage to lead fast-growing, multimillion-dollar companies. They are confident, fearless women who ignore the naysayers; ambitious, resourceful women who refuse to take no for an answer; imaginative, innovative women who view the world through a different lens; tenacious, independent women who turn conflicts and rejections into opportunities.
 
These women break down barriers and define what it means to be leaders in business — and in their communities. They pave the way to the future by mentoring other women and girls.
What most distinguishes them from their male counterparts is a different outlook, an inclusive company culture and a naturally collaborative style. “We are less competitive in our DNA,” says Jeanne Knutzen, founder, owner and CEO of Pace Staffing Network in Bellevue. “Don’t get me wrong. We are very competitive, but we have the mindset of ‘win, win,’ not ‘we win and somebody else loses.’ I’m more competitive for my customers. When they are winning, I’m winning.”
 
Knutzen started her recruiting, staffing and managed services company in 1975 when double standards were blatantly out in the open. She and her husband had identical balance sheets when they sought bank loans for their separate businesses. He was given carte blanche and she got a few hundred dollars that had to be paid back in 90 days. Today, her company brings in $15 million to $35 million a year. 
 
Paula Begoun, whose Seattle skin-care-products company Paula’s Choice has earned her the reputation as the Cosmetics Cop, says she found success through a combination of honesty, integrity, hard work and fun. “Work needs to be 50 percent work and 50 percent fun,” she says. “If that gets out of balance, something is wrong with your company’s culture.”
 
Knutzen and begoun are in fine company, even if they remain a distinct minority. Right now, women business owners account for about a quarter of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. But women are starting businesses at one and a half times the national average — about 1,288 a day — according to a 2015 State of Women-Owned Businesses report commissioned by American Express.
 
Last year, there were nearly 9.5 million woman-owned firms in the United States — 36 percent of all businesses in the country — and they generated about $1.5 trillion in revenues and employed 8 million people, according to the report. Between 1997 and 2015, when the number of businesses nationwide increased by 51 percent, the report says the number of woman-owned firms increased by 74 percent.
 
“We are seeing greater interest in the entrepreneurial ambitions of women, and these key factors are collaborating to open doors, increase access, and empower and enable women to succeed,” says Carla Harris, chair of the National Women’s Business Council in a 2015 report on women’s entrepreneurship. Harris predicts the number of woman-owned and woman-led businesses will more than double during the next five years.
That’s not to say it’s an easy road. Schescke, the owner of Indian Eyes in Pasco, endured years of prejudice and discrimination after leaving her Lakota reservation to live in an all-white community with a foster family in Nebraska, and later as a minority businesswoman working in the male-dominated construction-services industry.
 
Today, her “cradle-to-grave” logistics and facility support company is a prime contractor to the U.S. Department of Energy and holds a top government security clearance. Her firm was called in to provide “life-support services” when Pope Francis visited the United States last year and she was “boots down” as one of the first responders to the cleanup after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “We were right in the middle of it — snake pits and all,” she says of the project, which lasted six years.
 
Schescke relies on her Lakota values and attributes much of her success to building a good team and delegating responsibility instead of trying to do it all herself. “That means letting go and then having the resources to support growth,” she says.
 
For Lee Rhodes, a cancer diagnosis led her to create Glassybaby. When she was going through treatment, she dropped a tea light into a rough-hewn glass vessel and found great comfort in the color and light. She was then inspired to sell her own hand-blown votives. Since 2001, Glassybaby has been a Seattle success story — in spite of critics who question its single-product orientation — and has donated nearly $5 million to more than 300 nonprofits.
 
Brown, president and COO of Intellectual Ventures in Bellevue, learned at a young age that it’s OK to be uncomfortable. When she was 8 years old growing up in Richmond, Virginia, she and her brother were the first African-American students to attend a formerly all-white school after the state began to end racial segregation. “At first, I was uncomfortable about the whole business of going to this new school,” Brown recalls. But she worked through the discomfort and discovered that people grow when they push themselves. “And it doesn’t feel so uncomfortable anymore,” she notes.
Brown is passionate about encouraging females to pursue education in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and she supports STEM programs for girls of all ages.
 
A global study released this year by the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, D.C., concluded that companies whose executive ranks are at least 30 percent female generate as much as six percentage points more in profits than firms with less robust female representation. 
 
“If you’re a firm and you’re discriminating against potential female leaders, that means you’re essentially doing a bad job of picking the best leader for your firm,” the study concluded.
 
Megan Meade, president and CEO of The Pacific Financial Group, a Bellevue boutique investment firm,  jokes that “it’s taken 20 years to become an overnight success.” Meade began as a file clerk in the business her father started in 1984 from their basement. It was hard enough to be a woman in a male-dominated field, but climbing her way up the corporate ladder under the shadow of her father made it even more difficult. She admits she was fired three separate times but learned from those experiences and returned to the company each time wiser and more resilient.
 
“It’s an endurance test,” she says. “When I was younger, I thought I knew more than I really did. … It was embarrassing but I didn’t dwell on it.”
She learned the hard way the importance of listening to others before jumping to conclusions and that asking for help is not a bad thing.
 
Those lessons paid off. Today, Pacific Financial is the third-largest investment firm, ranked by number of investors, in the Puget Sound region, with more than 11,000 clients and nearly $1.5 billion in assets under management.
 
 
Robin Shapiro, founder of Seattle-based Health Perspectives Group (HPG), and Cheryl Lubbert, president and CEO, have married science and business to create a dynamic duo in the health care industry. They were inspired by the work they did at their former biotech company, Immunex, where Shapiro worked in communications and Lubbert in health care research and marketing.
 
What started out as a platform for patients to tell their stories has grown into four patient advocacy specialty firms under the HPG umbrella, with a total of $14 million in annual sales. In her spare time, Shapiro, who grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, volunteers on the board of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center within the Albers School of Business and Economics at Seattle University.
 
“Both of us share a philosophy that we have the power to make our lives anything we want them to be,” says Lubbert, a microbiologist turned executive. “It’s about having a sense of fearlessness.’’ 
 
Her health care firm is not the only thing she has grown. She and her husband turned their Vashon Island pear and apple orchard into a thriving hard cider business called Nashi Orchards.
 
Tenacity and grit are the traits Rosanna Bowles says have steered her tableware design company, Rosanna, to success. She started her business in her 1920s Seattle bungalow when a 20-foot container filled with her first order of hand-painted Italian ceramics arrived. When she started to unpack the crates — with the help of a sympathetic delivery driver — she discovered wet wood shavings stuck to 10,000 dishes. Dismayed, yet undeterred, she recalls, “I just rolled up my sleeves and started washing them. It was like an I Love Lucy episode.”
 
In addition to her signature tableware, Bowles created commemorative pieces for Pope Francis’ 2015 visit to the United States and commemorative pieces for the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
 
A trait these women share is that they are constantly reinventing themselves and their companies.
Lisa Hufford, founder and CEO of Simplicity Consulting in Kirkland, switched gears to start her own business. A former Microsoft sales director, she found her passion in consulting and helping companies build on-demand sales and marketing teams. Bolstered by high-profile tech clients, including Microsoft and Amazon, Hufford’s company has grown in the past 10 years to $42 million in revenues. It has about 250 employees and a database of more than 5,000 professionals.
 
She admits, however, that when it comes to work-life balance, there’s no magic solution. “Like most working parents,” she says, “you get good at juggling.”
 
Brown left a successful 30-year corporate career in the industrial sector for the world of inventions and intellectual property when she took on the COO role at Intellectual Ventures, where one of the most important core values is optimism. She was drawn to the private sector from a desire “to do something different, yet connected to the things I value.”
 
She was unafraid to leave respected, stable, 100-year-old companies to join a youthful, 10-year-old business that invests in inventions. “The opportunity to be a part of this early concept was something so promising and exciting that I just couldn’t resist,” she says.
 
Her advice to other women leading or working in companies of any size is “be fearless and surround yourself with a diverse group of people who complement your strengths and shore up your weaknesses.”
 
And she always comes back to that lesson she learned as a child: It’s OK to be uncomfortable.
 
“Women should embrace being comfortable while outside their comfort zone,” Brown says. “It’s in these times of discomfort that we can find who we are and what we are capable of achieving. … Fearlessness and the thrill of the challenge make new opportunities, great results and wonderful adventures possible.”