Off the Clock Profile #2: Karl Bischoff

Chairman & COO, Phinney Bischoff
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one in a monthly series of miniprofiles featuring local executives “off the clock.”

EXECUTIVE'S NAME, TITLE AND COMPANY NAME.
Karl Bischoff, Chairman & COO, Phinney Bischoff, Seattle.

TELL US WHAT YOUR COMPANY DOES AND WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THIS BUSINESS.
For over 30 years, we’ve created innovative solutions for both global and local brands. Since our start in 1982, we’ve evolved from a traditional design house to an experience design studio providing strategic branding, creative and digital services. But one thing has never changed: our unwavering commitment to provide meaningful, engaging and strategic solutions that create valuable experiences across every connection point.

After 20 years as a commercial photographer, I discovered my favorite part of the job was learning about my clients' companies and what made them tick. I started working with my wife, Leslie Phinney, on various projects and we eventually joined forces.

WHAT BOOK/TV SHOW/PODCAST ARE YOU READING/WATCHING/LISTENING TO AND WHY?
I love to read Medium.com, a blog by and for writers. I’ve even been brave enough to write a couple articles for it. I like to watch Roadies, a show about the backstage crew for a touring rock band. I spent my youth as a musician playing rock, blues, jazz, and traveling with an international avant-garde group called Amra Arma. I like reading anything by Neil Stephenson or William Gibson (speculative fiction writers) as well as technical manuals (sorry, what can I say?).

WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE SPOT IN SEATTLE?
Either home with my lovely wife and two pups, or at Bischoff Boatworks, my boat shop.

WHAT KIND OF CAR DO YOU DRIVE AND WHY?
After many years driving vans to carry musical equipment or photographic gear, I did my time with ragtops. Now the boatbuilding has me driving a Toyota Tundra monster truck with a rack for carrying big stuff.

TELL US SOMETHING PEOPLE DON'T KNOW ABOUT YOU.
In 1972, while on tour with the band in London, we did a biofeedback demonstration for the American ambassador at a U.S. Embassy reception for us.

WHAT ARE YOU PASSIONATE ABOUT OUTSIDE OF WORK?
For the past 15 years, I have been building wooden boats. I am intrigued by the history of the craft. I study how things were done hundreds of years ago by the masters. While I do use modern power tools, I also make some tools myself, as many hand tools are no longer manufactured. Most of the materials and processes I use are similar to those used for centuries. I am currently building a 30-foot wood schooner (two-masted) named Bish, my dad’s nickname, in my shop on the Duwamish in Georgetown. I’m six years into it, with an estimated 12 years to go. I don’t have a ton of time to dedicate to it, but it's fun poking away at it.

› Tell us about your Off the Clock activities. Visit seattlebusinessmag.com/clock-seattle-executive.

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.