Executive Q+A: Concur President Elena Donio

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

Coffee with Guppy: Seeking Authenticity with Tom Kundig

Coffee with Guppy: Seeking Authenticity with Tom Kundig

A chat with the celebrated Seattle architect.
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Tom Kundig is a principal and owner at Olson Kundig, the Seattle architecture firm and design practice founded on the idea that “buildings can serve as a bridge between nature, culture and people.”
 
Nancy: What does an architect do? 
Tom: An architect solves problems. We observe what’s going on culturally, both historically and currently, and try to make buildings that resolve a situation, whatever it might be. 
 
Did you always want to be an architect? 
Oh, no. My dad’s an architect, I grew up with architects around me and there was a certain culture about architecture that I didn’t particularly appreciate, but what I did appreciate were the artists in that environment. Eventually, against all sanity, I wound up in architecture and couldn’t be happier. 
 
How important is the budget when you take on a project? 
It’s critical because a budget gives context and, from my perspective, the tighter the budget (within reason), the better the building because it makes you edit. When the budget is loose, the building can become overindulged. 
 
Are you a different designer now than you were when you started out? 
Oh, yes. I understand a lot more about the human condition and I understand the technical drivers much more completely. Architecture is a profession of wisdom, and it’s rare when you see that wisdom in a young architect.
 
Do you have a favorite building in Seattle? 
It’s a toss-up between the Pike & Virginia Building, designed by Olson Walker in the late ’70s/early ’80s, and St. Ignatius Chapel on the Seattle University campus. 
 
Is there a building you wish you had designed? 
Nope. There are so many conspiring forces to make mediocre buildings that when a good building happens, no matter who did it, we should just stand back and applaud! 
 
 
Tom Kundig says his main driver is "to make as much as I can out of life."
 
Are there signature elements of a Tom Kundig design? 
My desire is for an authenticity, both in cultural function and in the way that the natural materials — whether brick, steel or wood — age and get better with time. 
 
In every project you’ve done, is there always at least one thing that you hate? 
Uh, yeah, on virtually every project, but I never admit it! (Laughs) 
 
What gets you excited about a project? 
A client who’s curious about the world because that person is going to engage and ask questions in a way that may take me out of the way I typically answer.
 
What has to be there in order for you to take on a client?  
Trust. If you hire me, then I’ve got to trust you as a client and you’ve got to trust me as your architect, that I’m going to be doing my best work working for you.
 
Have you ever had to walk away from a project? 
Yeah. It’s difficult but it’s not about me. It’s about the situation. I’m not the right architect for you, you’re not the right client for me and we are wasting our time.
 
When do you know if something you’ve made is good? 
When I’m drawing and things are happening and fitting together, it’s like listening to music inside my head. It flows.
 
Is there a Tom Kundig Life Statement? 
I put a quote in my first book: “Only common things happen when common sense prevails.” I don’t know who came up with it, but it always makes me smile and it’s kind of true. If you’re looking for adventure, or something new or something worth living for, you’re looking for the edge, whatever that might be. 
 
How do you balance your creative mind with your business mind? 
I think a creative mind is a business mind because business is creative. You’re dealing with a set of issues and you’re trying to find a pathway, trying to resolve the issues, into a success. 
 
What piece of advice would you give to your younger self, when you were just starting out?  
Be more secure about your abilities and less insecure about your existence so that you can do things with a well-placed confidence. 
 
What song would you like played at your funeral? 
(Laughs) I don’t know! I won’t be hearing it so I don’t really care. 
 
You’re stuck on a desert island and can have one book, one record, one food and one person
My wife, Jeannie. Beethoven’s Ninth. A hamburger. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
 
Who or what is your worst enemy? 
Noncritical thinking. People who don’t think about what they’re saying. 
 
Beatles or Rolling Stones?  
Beatles. I share a birthday with John Lennon and sympathy with his larger musical and political agendas.
 
What four guests would make for the perfect dinner party?
Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Feynman, Indira Gandhi, Muhammad Ali. 
 
Do you have a spiritual practice and if yes, how does that practice manifest? 
I was raised a Unitarian, so it is a very personal spiritual practice and certainly influenced by both Buddhist teachings and Jesuit friends. 
 
› For more on artists, entertainers and entrepreneurs, tune in Art Aone with Nancy Guppy on the Seattle Channel (seattlechannel.org/artzone).