Executive Q+A: Concur President Elena Donio

Shepherding the Bellevue company from independent enterprise to corporate subsidiary while keeping an eye on growth.
| 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. 

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