Executive Q&A: Concur President Elena Donio

| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

Elena Donio became a Concur employee in 1998 when it acquired the company she was working for at the time. She became president of the Bellevue-based provider of travel-and-expense management solutions in 2014 when Concur was acquired by the multinational software firm, SAP. Since that acquisition, Donio has guided Concur’s integration into SAP while maintaining Concur’s presence as a major force in the regional economy. 

EARLY YEARS: I grew up in Cupertino, California, in the heart of the [Silicon] Valley during a super exciting time. My father was in sales; my mom was an executive assistant at Apple. I graduated from the University of California–San Diego with a bachelor’s degree in economics. 

TECH INFLUENCES: My mom would often take me to lunch at Apple and walk me around the various buildings. She showed me the design labs and conference rooms, and introduced me to her colleagues as though I had come in for an interview. The environment, even for a teenager, was invigorating and planted the early seeds for my career in technology.

FINDING CONCUR: Early in my career, I was a consultant at Accenture, then Deloitte. After years of being on the road six days a week, I wanted to spend more time at home, so I joined an e-procurement startup in Palo Alto called 7Software. Six months later, they were acquired by Concur and I’ve been here ever since.

CONCUR’S MISSION: To think about the way the world should work so our clients can focus on what matters most.

ELEVATOR PITCH: We offer cloud-based services that make it simple to manage travel and expenses. By connecting data, applications and people, Concur delivers an effortless experience and total transparency into spending wherever and whenever it happens.

SINCE THE ACQUISITION: We are more focused than ever on delivering the perfect trip, the expense report that writes itself and the effortless invoice. Delivering on that promise and enabling our clients to stay focused on their unique missions and goals will continue to drive our growth.

FINDING QUALIFIED EMPLOYEES: We’re making progress, but we can do more. Tech companies need to make more of an investment in the education of our workforce and step up by mentoring and providing opportunities. At Concur, we’re making that investment through programs like the Ada Developers Academy and we will continue to grow our investment over time.  

DOWN THE ROAD: Over the past 18 years, we have continued to evolve, experience growth, and the highs and lows of technology shifts from a licensed enterprise model to cloud-based services and from desktop computing to the mobile device. When I think about the future, I want Concur to be a place our kids would be proud to work at. I also see us continuing our rapid global expansion while leveraging our insights to anticipate and respond to what our clients need.

GREATEST CHALLENGE: Continuing to deliver the greatest client experience while achieving phenomenal growth and staying true to our Concur culture as we continue through the transition of the SAP acquisition.

INFLUENTIAL MENTORS: Raj Singh, one of Concur’s founders, pushed me to try new things, embrace big ideas and do it my way. He has a fantastic ability to embrace diversity of thinking and get the most out of everyone around him. One of my early mentors at Deloitte was Liz Fasciana, who is now a partner in their U.K. office. The most important lesson Liz taught me was that breaking my own back didn’t matter if the rest of the team wasn’t up for the task. My dad is still a dramatic force in my life. [When I was] growing up, he was constantly telling me I could go anywhere and do anything. He had high expectations — we were to excel in school and have big careers. No excuses. Through every failure and rejection, through every victory, he was there with the same message, “I’m proud of you. You can do this.” He still says this to me at least once a week. I don’t think I need it anymore, but it reminds me to share it with the young women around me. And I’m grateful for that.

PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENT: One of the things I’m most proud of is my work building the small and medium-size business [SMB] division at Concur from the ground up. In about four years, the SMB unit generated more than 500 new jobs and is currently the fastest-growing commercial business within Concur. Today, 11 percent of the total expense transactions we see at Concur come through the SMB channel, and that number is increasing every year.

ADMIRED EXECUTIVE: Mary Barra worked her way up at General Motors through years of hard work, grit and determination. She stepped into the CEO’s  role during a super challenging time and managed through it with grace while taking accountability for the recall crisis. She’s working to nurture what’s great about the culture while changing what isn’t. I love that.

FAVORITE SEATTLE SPOT: My husband proposed to me in the Bookstore Bar at the Alexis Hotel. It doesn’t matter if I’m on my way to a meeting, a Seahawks game or to dinner — it makes me smile every time I pass it.

HAVING FUN: I have three young boys who create plenty of opportunities for fun. We ski, hike, build Legos and explore together. I’m a big reader. I typically alternate between reading fiction and nonfiction and get through at least a few books a month. When I’m on the road, which is a lot, I try to take in a local treasure as often as I can — a museum, restaurant or part of the natural surroundings. 

DREAM VACATION: I’d love to rent a house in the middle of a vineyard in the south of France at some point. It just sounds so romantic, but my entire family would need to be there as well. 

Executive Q+A: Seattle Mayor Ed Murray

Executive Q+A: Seattle Mayor Ed Murray

He wants the city's strong-mayor system to have a more robust organizational structure.
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 
 
Under Ed Murray, Seattle has become recognized nationally for promoting progressive policies like the $15 minimum wage, but he also sees the need for more centralization in the mayor’s office to implement better controls over the city’s large bureaucracy.
 
EARLY YEARS: My father was a logger. Two of my uncles died in logging accidents. Later, Dad worked for Bethlehem Steel. He went to business school and ended up on the business side of the Port Blakely Companies and finally worked at the state Department of Natural Resources. As a large Catholic family, we sometimes struggled financially. I had paper routes, washed dishes and even picked blueberries — a job I hated — for clothes and to pay for dental work. In college, I worked full time so I could get insurance.
 
POLITICS: I’ve wanted to be in politics since I was 5, when John F. Kennedy was running for president. There was so much excitement. We stayed up later [on election night] and in the morning, we ran into my parents’ room and jumped on the bed to find out who was elected. There is this natural interest in politics among the Irish in America. I have cousins who’ve been elected mayor in the New Jersey and New York areas.
 
DRIVE: When you grow up where food doesn’t come easy, it’s almost a double fear that you will end up destitute. When you have opportunities like I’ve had in life, you absolutely want to spend every moment making it work. I’m driven and I look for people who are driven. At times, I’ve had to dial back the way I drive others. 
 
MAYOR’S OFFICE: This city has a strong-mayor system. Unlike in Boston or New York, I don’t have to [get city council approval] to raise the minimum wage or do a [child care] program. But we have a fairly small mayor’s office compared to other large cities. I’m responsible for 14,000 city employees in 28 different departments, including Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities, but I have little ability to do independent oversight. We don’t have the controls that the governor’s office has with the Office of Financial Management. For the day-to-day administration, we need another level of centralization so, for example, we can build projects on time and on budget. We’re looking at ways to use statistics to measure performance. How do we monitor construction in real time to catch problems early?
 
BIG CITY: In my first two years in office, Seattle went from the 20th to the 18th largest city [in the United States]. That [growth] creates challenges. I’ve brought in some of the most innovative people in the country to work in the mayor’s office, to be directors of departments to take us to that next level. I focused on folks who’ve come from big cities because we don’t have a lot of depth when it comes to big cities.
 
PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENT: The fact that we have been able to pass five ballot measures in two years to really catch this city up on transportation, parks and bus service. Maybe our pre-K [early learning] program will be, in the end, the most significant. If we get this right, we will radically change the outcome for those young people.
 
BUSINESS REGULATION: I worry about the impacts on the smallest businesses in the city. In a city that is rapidly changing, their situation is the most precarious. We need to do a better job on how we engage and assist them. That’s why I brought in Brian Surratt as director of the Office of Economic Development. But many of the things we have done, we have done with with business. Business was there on pre-K and transportation. If we don’t have a transit system that works, business doesn’t work. Even on minimum wage, business is not happy, but we created a model of phasing it in that has become a model around the country. With the housing levy, developers for the first time agreed with low-income-housing advocates to accept a requirement to build or pay for affordable housing in exchange for increased density in our urban villages. This has been a collaborative process. I do worry at times that some on the council don’t understand that most businesses operate on the margin. I do worry that there could be a piling-on effect without understanding the full implications of that. But business needs to do a better job of articulating what they want and not simply what they are against.
 
BUDGET: We have to be really sensitive to levy fatigue because we have a really regressive tax system that leaves us few choices other than property taxes. Having said that, the housing levy did pass by 70 percent. That was the fifth levy I had sent out in two years. I do need to add that Seattle’s tax burden is less than some of our suburban cities. Still, there are real risks here. On every budget speech I give, I remind the council that a lot of increased revenue we have received is off of construction that will ultimately slow down. We are keeping a high reserve to prepare for worse times.  
 
HOMELESSNESS: The first year I was in office was the last year of the 10-year plan to end homelessness. The city identified and built every unit it said it needed to end homelessness and yet the problem is worse. We need to be innovative about finding new ways to deal with homelessness. But the myth that Seattle can solve this problem hurts the homeless. Seattleites are pointing at each other for a problem that only the nation and state can help us solve. We’ve stepped up big time, but there is this issue of income inequality, and the massive heroin epidemic in this country while the government is retreating from its responsibilities. We are number 47 in what we spend on mental illness in this state. What disappoints me is the folks in Seattle don’t realize that towns up and down the West Coast all have homeless crises. That’s an area I have to own a failure — not being able to create a dialogue to create a bigger movement.
 
TAKE 5: GET TO KNOW ED MURRAY
 
HERO: “When I was 13 or 14 and Wes Uhlman was elected mayor at 34, I read an article in the Seattle P-I that showed a picture of him on the balcony of the old City Hall. That’s when I wanted to be mayor.
 
FAVORITE VACATION: Visiting the Washington coast with his husband, Michael Shiosaki.
 
A LIFE IN POLITICS: Murray once confided to reporter Joel Connelly: “In 18 years, I have never been on a vacation where we haven’t been interrupted by some legislative crisis or some controversy in the media.”
 
TRUTH TELLER. “The biggest myth is that we have a large tax burden. We are the 18th-largest city [in the country], but in terms of tax burden, we are something like the 50th.”
 
GO, PILOTS. Murray was born in Aberdeen in 1955 and grew up in West Seattle and Lacey. He has a sociology degree from the University of Portland.
 
EXECUTIVE Q+A RESPONSES HAVE BEEN EDITED AND CONDENSED.