By Assunta Ng
Many Asian Americans know Scott Oki as the ex-Microsoft multi-millionaire and owner of 11 Washington state golf courses, including the Newcastle Golf Course. But few know Oki as an ineffable philanthropist because he doesn’t follow the path of a typical Japanese American donor, supporting the community center, nursing home, or events. You won’t find Oki’s name on the usual list of Asian donors who contribute to “good causes” either.
“Good causes” are never enough to motivate Oki’s participation in charities. His style of community involvement is unconventional. Take the Seattle Children’s Hospital for instance. The Seattle Children’s Hospital is one of the organizations that benefits not only from the Oki’s money but also his brains and leadership.
Oki doesn’t just write checks, he wants projects that can challenge him, bring out his passion, stimulate his imagination and vision, and utilize his skills and knowledge. Clearly, rather than following someone else’s shoes, Oki has invented his own way of giving back to the community.
On Aug. 15, the Children’s Hospital presented Oki and his wife Laurie the W.J. Jerry Pennington Award 2013 at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel.
The award was created in 1985 in memory of Pennington, a former Seattle Times publisher. Oki is the first Asian American to receive the award.
His wealth and golf
Bill Gates asked Oki to start Microsoft’s international division, including doing business in Japan and Europe, even though Oki had never visited Japan before nor does he speak Japanese. Under Oki’s leadership, the company’s sales rose from $100 million to $1 billion. By the time he retired a decade to the day after he started, Oki was supervising over 3,000 employees in 1992. He was only 43 years old.
According to Wikipedia, Oki’s cashed in his stock options, which were worth around $100 million.
In 1994, Oki, an ardent golf player, purchased The Golf Club at Echo Falls in Snohomish. By 2005, he had nine properties comprising 11 championship golf courses, 9 public and 2 private, in the Puget Sound area. The Okis employ between 200 and 1,000 people, depending on the time of the year.
Among the golf courses, Newcastle is the most popular — especially for weddings. Annually, about 100 weddings are held at Newcastle.
How the Okis give
Oki calls himself “Chief Volunteer,” a title that he prints on his business card.
After Oki retired from Microsoft as senior vice president, he started the nonprofit Oki Foundation, and serves on dozens of advisory boards and boards of directors for both for-profit and nonprofit companies.
It is in Oki’s nature to find meaningful roles in what he does, and in turn create bigger roles for the organization he supports. The result is a more powerful and lasting impact in the community.
The Children’s Hospital is such an example. With a $1 million challenge grant in 1993, Children’s Board Members Scott and Laurie encouraged 100 individuals and couples to each make a $10,000 gift to Seattle Children’s. Laurie has been serving on both Children’s board and foundation for 21 years. This effort developed into a program called the Children’s Circle of Care.
The Okis’ idea snowballed, and 25 children’s hospitals nationwide joined in. Last year, the circle collectively raised $485 million. Their involvement signifies not only advocacy for the agency but also inspires others to give.
Another great example is the United Way of King County’s Million Dollar Roundtable. Since then, United Way has raised its bar for its annual campaign, doubling its donations as one of the most successful agencies in the country.
Oki also founded the Japanese American Chamber of Commerce (JACC), and as board president helped lead the group that created “Densho,” a project that documents the Japanese American incarceration of World War II.
Oki also realized that the glass ceiling hits Asian Americans hard in corporate America. He and two other Japanese Americans, the late Ted Yamamura and Vanna Novak, cofounded the Executive Development Institute, an offshoot of the JACC, in 1994 to train Asian Americans to become top-level managers for the corporate world.
He also founded a group called Social Venture Partnerships for wealthy ex-Microsoft employees looking for meaningful ventures to contribute to.
By now, you should understand why it isn’t a good idea to approach Oki to support your nonprofit’s final phase of the capital campaign. Save your stamps and ink, don’t send a letter asking just for money. If you really want his support, think hard to create a program in which only Oki can make a difference, leaving his mark simultaneously. Maybe then he’ll answer you back.
A touching moment
More than 150 guests showed up to thank Scott and Laurie at the award luncheon. His two sons Alexander and Nicholas sang Over the Rainbow, and many of Oki’s family members cried, including his mom and brother. The performance received a standing ovation from the audience.
Scott’s speech was short and sweet. He said his parents ingrained in him to use three words, “Please and thank you.” He urged the guests to
“Please continue to support Children’s and thank you very much” for attending the event.
Thank you Scott and Laurie for all you do. (end)