By Assunta Ng
Normally, when I’m invited to a mainstream event, I have high expectations for their program and networking opportunities, but low expectations for their diversity. Don’t blame me, that’s the way many events are in Seattle — white and exclusive. I am usually one of the few women of color.
But the Seattle Business Magazine’s inaugural Executive Excellence Awards dinner on Jan. 31 at The Four Seasons surprised me with its presentation of diverse leaders, including three persons of color and six women. It’s smart on their part to include non-profit CEOs.
Out of 14 honorees, the biggest award went to an Asian American leader.
Jerry Lee, chairman of Mulvanny G2 Architecture, received the SBM Lifetime Achievement Award.
Other honorees included Colleen Brown, president and CEO of Fisher Communications; Jeff Christianson, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of F5 Networks; Melanie Dressel, President and CEO of Columbia Bank; Ezra Eckhardt, President and COO of Sterling Bank; Kathryn Flores, CAO of Child Care Resources of King County; Megan Karch, CEO of FareStart; Dara Khosrowshahi, President and CEO of Expedia; Marcia Mason, Vice President and General Counsel of the Esterline Corperation; Bryan Mistele, President and CEO of Inrix; Kathleen Philips, General Counsel of Zillow; Peter Rose, Chairman and CEO of Expeditors International; Steve Singh, Chairman and CEO of Concur Technologies; and Mary Ellen Stone, Executive Director of King County Sexual Assault Resource Center.
The program was also interesting. In addition to acceptances from the winners, a video interview was featured that was filled with insights on leadership from former Governor Christine Gregoire, Seattle University President Father Stephen Sundborg, former King County Executive Ron Sims, and others. Many award winners were fantastic speakers, speaking with humor and passion. The master of ceremonies, John Levesque, SBM’s own managing editor, was witty and a quick thinker.
KOMO beats KING for the first time
The most shocking news of the night was from Fisher Communications CEO Colleen Brown, one of the most prominent honorees.
For the first time in 23 years, KOMO TV is now the number one network for evening news. “We have beat the reigning KING,” she said. The timing of the Seattle Business Magazine awards couldn’t have been better, as Brown announced the news to a room of over 300 executives. KOMO anchors sitting amongst the crowd — Mary Nam, Steve Pool, and Dan Lewis — couldn’t be more proud. As soon as Brown ended her speech, the three rushed out and headed back to the KOMO studio for their evening news program at 11 p.m.
A decade ago, the Asian Weekly wrote about how KOMO lacked diversity in its newsroom. At the time, KING had the most diverse newscast. Now, KOMO has two Asian American anchors during their prime time news program, including Molly Shen.
After joining the company after five straight years of losses, Brown turned the company around, not only with a net profit of $36 million in 2011, but also by initiating innovations such as starting DataSphere, an Internet company that offers hyper local news on mobile phones.
All good things happen at once
The only honoree absent from the event was Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO of Expedia. He was witnessing something even more exciting — his wife was giving birth to twin boys.
Born in Tehran, Iran, Khosrowshahi, 52, has an engineering degree and work experience in finance and technology. Expedia had $3.4 billion in revenue in 2011. Dara’s salary is not bad either — close to $5 million, according to a couple websites.
Expeditors International’s Asian roots
Expeditors International’s Chairman and CEO Peter Rose and his partners were drinking beer in Hong Kong when the company’s idea was born, according to SBM. The partners, including James Wang, drew plans for a business on a cocktail napkin. They pooled their resources together and started with $300,000. Now, the company has grown to $6.2 billion in revenue and $386 million in profits in 2011. They employ 13,000 employees out of 250 offices around the world.
There were lots of movers and shakers in the room, including Herb Bridge, Ben Bridge Jeweler co-chair; Tay Yoshitani, Port of Seattle CEO; and Seattle University Business School Dean Joseph M. Phillips.
Many times I have walked into an event and ended up meeting no one. However, SBM had guests who were eager to mingle.
I reconnected with people I had met years ago who remembered me, as well as some rising stars in the business world.
The Asian Weekly also hosted a big event — the Women of Color Empowered lunch — on the same day as the SBM event.
Fortunately, SBM’s gala was in the evening, and I still had energy to go another round.
I was elated to be there to cheer for Jerry Lee. As he said, Mulvanny G2 might not be the largest architectural firm, but his commitment towards the community and impressive philanthropy beat the other CEOs. He was the only honoree receiving a standing ovation. (end)