10 Seattle Executives To Watch in '20

Keep an eye on these pacesetters in the year ahead
WELCOME TO SEATTLE. Visit Seattle CEO Tom Norwalk says the city needs to take a bite out of crime to ensure its visitor industry continues to flourish.

This article appears in print in the January/February 2020 issue. Click here for a free subscription.

The Puget Sound region is home to the fastest-growing economy in the United States. Economic development agency Greater Seattle Partners says the region’s economy expanded by 6.9% in 2018, growing 2.3 times faster than the national average.

That growth requires leadership, tenacity and vision. Clearly, hundreds of leaders across the region play key roles in helping to propel the record pace of economic growth and increasingly put Seattle on the national and global map.

Here are 10 to watch as a new decade kicks in.

Tom Norwalk
Visit Seattle

Out-of-towners are coming to Seattle in record numbers. Tom Norwalk is at the heart of it.

The president and chief executive officer of Visit Seattle — a private, nonprofit marketing organization that essentially serves as King County’s tourism agency — is also on the front lines as homelessness, vandalism, crime and open drug use threaten the city’s record-breaking convention and tourism business.

The region has lost several large conventions after site visits by convention organizers concerned about the safety and security of attendees. “It has spiraled out of control,” Norwalk said last year. “Safety and social issues in the city have risen to be something we talk about like never before.”

A lot rides on Norwalk’s efforts. The Washington State Convention Center hosted 50 national conventions, totaling more than 704,000 room nights in 2018 — the latest year for which data is available. The economic impact of total business booked by Visit Seattle throughout King County hit $715 million in 2018, an increase of 16% from two years prior.
There’s more coming: The city is adding 1.5 million square feet to the convention center with the “Summit,” a $1.8 billion addition set to open in the spring of 2022.

Pete Nordstrom
Nordstrom Inc.

Nordstrom Inc. Co-President Pete Nordstrom was forced to take on huge responsibilities when his brother, Blake, died early last year.

That was just the beginning of a crazy 2019 for the iconic Seattle retailer. Pete, along with his brother and fellow co-president, Erik, reversed a steep downturn in company stock, terminated a proposal that would have increased the brothers’ ownership of common stock from 31% to 50% — laying to rest a rumor that it would go private after 49 years as a publicly traded company — and announced that the retailer had reached 100% pay equity for employees of all genders and races.

The retailer won an award from trade website Retail Dive last year under the “Store Concept of the Year” category for its merchandise-free stores called Nordstrom Local, which offer online order pickups and returns as well as tailoring services. Nordstrom Local operates three locations in Los Angeles and two in New York.

Retail Dive called the concept “potentially” Nordstrom’s savior, noting that the company “stands out among department stores for its innovative approach.”

Nordstrom also opened an upscale flagship women’s store in New York City in 2019, a year after opening its first full-line men’s store there.

EXPLOSIVE GROWTH. Since Convoy was launched in 2015, CEO Dan Lewis has grown the company into an enterprise valued at more than $1 billion that employs more than 800 people.

Dan Lewis
Convoy Inc.

For Convoy Inc. Chief Executive Officer Dan Lewis, trucking is technology.

The Seattle-based digital freight-forwarding company last fall raised a staggering $400 million in a series D funding round, bringing the total raised by the company to $668 million. Notable investors have included Amazon founder Jeff Bezos via Bezos Expeditions; Bono and the Edge from rock group U2; and Cascade Investment, the private investment vehicle of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

Even before the recent haul, Convoy became one of only a handful of Seattle-area companies to reach unicorn status with a $1 billion-plus valuation. And it plays in an industry considered the lifeblood of the nation’s economy: the $800 billion and growing trucking industry.

Convoy, which was founded only five years ago and already employs more than 800 people, has built the industry’s first digital freight network that moves tens of thousands of truckloads per week in the United States. The technology uses machine learning to automatically match shipments to carriers.

“Trucking has historically been a zero-sum game, born from a marketplace where when one side wins, the other side loses,” Lewis says. “The magic of applying technology to this decades-old industry is that we can [lower] the total cost to shippers with better service, while removing the hassle of wasted time and miles for truck drivers, allowing them to earn more.”

Roz Brewer
Starbucks Corp.

Since joining Starbucks Corp. as chief operating officer and group president Americas in October 2017, Rosalind Brewer has played a critical role in the tech and retail giant’s radical shift in strategy.

Brewer, who previously served as president and chief executive officer of warehouse chain Sam’s Club, has shifted the company’s real estate strategy in the United States by championing new, smaller-format stores — many with drive-thru lanes — in lower-cost, largely suburban and rural areas in the Midwest and South, where Starbucks is under-represented. Several underperforming stores, many in over-saturated urban markets, have been closed.

She also has been a key driver in the company’s introduction of new beverages and in expanding its digital-loyalty program to help it learn more about its customer base.

According to Zack’s Investment Research, “Starbucks continues to benefit from robust performance by the Americas and China-Asia-Pacific segments, store openings, enhanced customer experience and digitalization.”

Starbucks stock has skyrocketed 52% during Brewer’s tenure, closing at almost $90 per share shortly before Christmas.
“Our drive-thru business continues to grow well, and you’ll see that continue through fiscal year 2020,” Brewer said on a conference call with investors and analysts last October. As for the loyalty program, she says, “We are seeing a broader array of customers that are attracted to Starbucks.”

Paul Lambros
Plymouth Housing

Paul Lambros has spent almost 27 years fighting homelessness since joining Plymouth Housing in 1993. Now, the Seattle-based nonprofit’s chief executive officer is leading the organization’s most audacious campaign yet.
At last report, Plymouth was nearly two-thirds of the way toward its $75 million goal to build 800 homes to combat the region’s homelessness problem.

Plymouth plans to construct eight new buildings in neighborhoods across the city, including the International District, Uptown and First Hill. The 800 homes would nearly double the number of residents the Seattle-based nonprofit currently houses.

Plymouth says the $75 million will leverage upward of $250 million in public money to fund construction. The first five buildings will be completed within four years. Plymouth currently operates 14 buildings that house 1,150 people.
According to its website, 94% of Plymouth’s residents succeed in maintaining a permanent home after leaving homelessness. King County has 11,199 homeless individuals, according to the 2019 Count Us In survey.

“Plymouth has a proven model to bring stability, community and housing to those most in need. A dollar invested in a Plymouth supportive-housing project leads to many dollars saved in our emergency rooms, hospitals and jails,” says Downtown Seattle Association President and CEO Jon Scholes. “It’s the moral and cost-effective approach to serving the chronically homeless in our community.”

STRAIGHT SHOOTER. Bartell Drugs CEO Kathi Lentzsch isn’t shy about calling out problems faced by the city’s business community. 

Kathi Lentzsch
Bartell Drugs

Perhaps it takes a relative newcomer to shake up Seattle’s penchant for non-confrontation.

Kathi Lentzsch has served as Bartell Drugs chief executive officer and president for just two years, but she’s already established herself as one of the most outspoken business leaders when it comes to the city’s tolerance of open drug use and criminal behavior in downtown Seattle.

While numerous other leaders prefer to work quietly behind the scenes in search of a solution, Lentzsch will tell anyone who asks that the city’s gritty street scene is a major safety issue for both her employees and customers. A recent report contends that downtown Seattle is plagued by “repeat criminal activity.”

Lentzsch last fall closed the Seattle-based retailer’s location on Third Avenue out of concern for the safety of employees and customers, though the company still had an active lease. She also implemented policies forbidding employees from interceding while witnessing criminal activity inside stores. Several Bartell employees had previously been assaulted while intervening.

“The risk we take every day with our customers and employees is huge,” Lentzsch told Seattle Business magazine. “I am so concerned something is going to happen to a customer. Customers see something happening and they want to jump in and help.”

Eric Artz
REI Co-op

Eric Artz never planned on becoming REI Co-op’s chief executive because of a scandal.

Artz stabilized the popular Seattle-based outdoor-apparel retailer after being named interim and then permanent CEO last year. Former president and CEO Jerry Stritzke resigned in February 2019 after failing to properly disclose a personal relationship that created a “perceived conflict of interest” that violated company policy.

Though Artz didn’t exactly have to fix a broken ship — the company set a revenue record of $2.78 billion in 2018 — he led a move to expand the retailer’s online offerings and launched a nationwide cleanup effort by asking the company’s 13,000 employees and 18 million members to commit to a 52-week action plan to reduce their environmental footprint.
“Our purpose at REI — our reason for being — is to awaken a lifelong love for the outdoors, for all,” Artz says. “Because if we can’t help people to be connected with nature, how can we expect them to care for the long-term health of the planet?”

Last fall, REI opened four stores across the country in a single day. The retailer now operates 158 stores in 37 states and the District of Columbia.

REI is preparing to move its headquarters from Kent into the new Spring District in Bellevue this year.

Mike Marsh
Overlake Medical Center

Since joining Overlake Medical Center nearly six years ago as president and chief executive officer, Mike Marsh has racked up some impressive accomplishments.

Marsh is a driving force behind Bellevue-based Overlake’s new five-story, 240,000-square-foot inpatient tower slated to open later this year. The tower is part of the medical center’s $250 million, five-year campus renewal project, the largest in its history. Called Project FutureCare, it includes a childbirth center, medical and surgical units, and patient recovery rooms incorporating advanced technology with abundant use of natural light. The final phase is set to be completed in 2022.

Overlake last fall earned an A for patient safety from Leapfrog Group, the 14th “A” rating in the past 15 rating cycles, and also received recognition for several of its programs, including gynecologic surgery, stroke treatment and joint replacement.

Overlake, which is celebrating its 60th year of operation in 2020, recently opened a clinic in Expedia Inc.’s new Seattle headquarters. It previously operated a clinic in the company’s former headquarters in Bellevue.

Marsh also led the effort to form a partnership with EvergreenHealth, called the Eastside Health Network. The network recently partnered with Microsoft Corp. and health insurer Premera to offer health plan options for Microsoft employees.

Margaret Meister
Symetra Financial Corp.

Unless you’re an insurance broker or banker, chances are you’re not familiar with Symetra Financial Corp.

If Symetra Chief Executive Officer and President Margaret Meister has her way, the Bellevue-based provider of employee benefits, annuities and insurance will soon enjoy national cachet among consumers as well.

That’s a key reason why the company last year signed a 10-year branding deal with the WNBA’s Seattle Storm as a major corporate sponsor. It quickly followed that up by sponsoring Seattle’s new NHL team, which begins play in the 2021-2022 season.

The Symetra brand will be prominently showcased throughout the New Arena at Seattle Center and at the three ice rinks being developed at Northgate Mall, where the hockey club will maintain its headquarters and practice facilities. Symetra, NHL Seattle and the entity developing the New Arena, Oak View Group, also will collaborate on philanthropic endeavors.
“For us to really get to the level that we can get to, we need to make the brand investment and get the consumer-level recognition of who Symetra is and what we do,” Meister says.

It may never rival Microsoft or Amazon, but Symetra is taking big steps to become another iconic Pacific Northwest company.

HEALTH CARE REBEL. 98point6 CEO Robbie Cape is fueling a telehealth revolution.

Robbie Cape

Robbie Cape says he wants his fast-growing Seattle startup, 98point6, to become the Amazon of health care.

The company co-founded by the former Microsoft executive in 2015 offers on-demand text-based primary medical care through an app and website where patients can connect with a physician via their smartphones. It has already raised $86.3 million since its inception, highlighted by a $50 million funding round in late 2018 led by Goldman Sachs’ Merchant Banking Division.

98point6 began the year with about 100,000 members but now has more than 750,000 members and more than 180 corporate clients. It recently inked a major deal with First Choice Health, a physician- and hospital-owned company that serves more than 1 million patients in the Northwest. Next up for 98point6: international expansion.

Cape has developed 14 core values that guide everything from hiring decisions to product direction. They include “collaborate and commit,” “passion for everyone we serve” and “deliver impactful results.”

Last year, Cape said he wasn’t ruling out taking the company public. Don’t be surprised if that happens sooner rather than later.

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