A conversation with Seattle Metro Chamber President Maud Daudon

“Being intentional is how you get to where you want to go.”

Our work in the region depends on knowing what’s on the minds of the people who live and work here. As an organization, we’ll continue hosting our Dinner Table Talks throughout the year. But I’ll also be sitting down with influencers to listen and learn about the issues facing the Pacific Northwest. By 2040, the Puget Sound region is expected to house 333,000 more people. How do we as a region grow gracefully? I sat down recently with Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce President Maud Daudon.

Maud Daudon is president and CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce

Daudon has served as president and CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce since 2012. Prior she worked as president and CEO of Seattle-Northwest Securities Corporation, as Deputy Mayor and Chief of Staff for the City of Seattle and as the Chief Financial Officer for the Port of Seattle.

Q: Is there a connection between the business community and sustainability?

A: The Chamber’s philosophy is that you can’t have a healthy business community if you don’t have a healthy community. To have a strong economy, you need to be great stewards of your natural and cultural assets and you can’t leave people behind. You can’t have some doing very well and some not doing well at all. The business community realizes we have a responsibility for all of it. We have to show up and be problem solvers. So when we see something like raising the minimum wage, we say: Here’s a way that could work for the business community and strengthen the community without sending businesses packing. It’s that showing up and understanding the issue and saying, Yes, we get it and here’s a way it could work for us, too.

And ultimately, you can’t have a great environment if we don’t have a healthy business community because our local businesses fund a lot of our civic initiatives. They employ a lot of people at living wages.

Q: So you see your role as one of positive engagement and leadership. Do you see government and NGOs regarding you in that way?

A: There’s a suspicion, a cynicism towards large business. There’s less suspicion towards small business and frankly, 80 percent of our members are small and mid-size companies.

We have a history of working collaboratively with government and non-profits and are continuing that work.

For example, we just launched a new initiative around gender pay equity, 100% Talent, as a joint effort with the Women’s Funding Alliance.

And the Seattle Region Partnership—it’s designed to be a public/private/philanthropic partnership, a 2-year initiative focused on connecting people to middle-income pathway jobs. We have a lot of these jobs and we have folks who we are leaving behind—partial degree completers, returning vets. So we’re saying, This is within our grasp if we all get on the same team. It’s going to be an experiment to say, If we set a table like that, will we be able to work together in partnership and get a shared vision of what we want to do and use the power of the collective to advance it? As opposed to having 6 million different tables each doing their own thing.

Q: I think this has to go beyond two years and be more like a 10-year sustained effort.

A: The idea is let’s see if we can get aligned and get our feet wet together and take it to the next level.

This whole thing about shared vision is really interesting to me. We’ve done a lot of work with [the] Brookings [Institution] and they’ve helped us think this through. What they said was, Thank God you’re doing this. When we show up when we’re trying to figure out what’s going with x-y-z issue, we have to go to like seven different tables and they all think they’re in charge and they don’t know about each other whereas in other communities there is a common table.

We are a city of innovators, of pioneers and people who love to invent their own thing and we have to embrace that. But we need to capitalize on the innovative spirit and get it aligned as possible so people are more aware of each other–and make it more powerful.

I see in the millennials a real impatience with The Big Picture and The Big Vision—the lumbering work you’re doing and the work I’m doing. They want to get in and change something now. And we need to find a place for all these people who want action.

Q: Every once in a while you see data that really drives something home. Zillow’s data [presented at a recent Chamber event] I thought was really powerful when they brought out the miles between jobs and homes by income level. And the stark divide. It goes a lot to what you’re saying about decreasing disparity.

Median commute distance to downtown Seattle

As you look out to the next decade, what are three challenges that the region needs to take on?

A: I think closing the [income disparity] gap. Business needs the jobs, people need the opportunity. I do think we can get it right.

I think the same kind of table needs to be set in the integrated land use/planning and transportation arena. That aligns it better. That brings the power of knowledgeable people to the table. And it’s transparent enough that it’s not cloaked in secrecy but nimble enough to take advantage of all thought leadership.

I think the vision piece of how we’re really growing and urbanizing is not clear. I think the HALA plan has been fabulous for Seattle; it does give a vision for urbanizing Seattle but there’s a ton of work to do to get that all the way through. And I think it’s very immediate because as you know, we have a tidal wave of people coming and we’ve got to get this right.

I think we have a huge challenge about climate change and the ancillary aspects of it. Our snowpack; what happens in fire season? What is happening to Puget Sound? I think these things are really important and they’re not on the radar enough.

And finally, the fundamental conversation we need to have about race. And I think that’s the stumbling block in advancing a lot in terms of curriculum gaps and better educational opportunities. How deeply we’ll be able to get to that conversation in our work—I don’t know. But it’s a must.

Q: You’ve been involved in so much great civic success. But what are the ones that this region really missed and what have we learned?

A: The light rail system as part of Forward Thrust. I was not there. It was not my miss but man, that was a really big loss.

Q: And what did we learn?

A: I think we learned that we need to get more coherent as a community and get ahead of things and get a little more proactive and not, Eh, whatever. Mañana. Intentional is the word that comes to mind. We’re not as intentional as we might be and being intentional is how you can get to where you want to go. I don’t think we’ve figured out yet the perfect model about how to do that in our highly diverse, highly independent, highly pioneering culture.

The business community has gotten behind the statewide transportation package, doubling our transit capacity, the Move Seattle levy. We’re deeply engaged in Sound Transit 3. I think there’s a sense of It’s time to invest. On the leadership side, I don’t know how much ownership this business community feels for that problem.

A more recent one [failure] is The Commons. That comes up more often than I would expect. I still hear people lament Wow, that would have been such a great thing. It looked elitist…

Q: I would say the lesson learned is that an issue like that can’t be elitist. It should be very broad based. And Friends of the Waterfront is working hard on that, to be very positively embraced by the whole community.

A: I look at our infrastructure. We need a great airport. We need a great convention center. I think we need a hard look at Seattle Center. It’s got so much potential. It’s a gem and I think we have a huge opportunity with that.

Q: How do you reconcile this need for significant investment in our infrastructure with all these social demands we have?

A: It’s all connected. Transit infrastructure is probably the easiest to connect because of the Zillow information. If we can’t figure how to get people affordably from one place to another without sitting in traffic, we’re going to make people’s lives miserable, and maybe lose people from the region and that’s talent that we need.

Q: What would surprise your college aged-self–the Maud attending Hampshire College—about the Maud of today?

A: Shocked that I would be working in the business community. Hampshire wasn’t exactly business focused. (Laughs) Not at all surprised I care about urban places and people. And how communities self-determine where they want to go.

Q: Is there anything you know now that you wish you had known back then?

A: I would say that it’s hugely important not to care about how others perceive you but to really think about what you care about, what you’re passionate about and pursue it like crazy. And don’t be afraid to take risks.

Q: There ought to be college courses that emphasize that.

A: When you talk to entrepreneurs, in our data recently we learned that most entrepreneurs come from these really middle-income families. And they’re partly motivated by Oh, I have this idea. So maybe they’re inspired by the idea of making money. But their core motivation is I can do something new. I think: Do what you want to do and the money will follow.

Q: Are you optimistic about this region?

A: Totally.

Q: One of the points that came out in our research is that folks who move to a region adopt their region’s values.

A: [That makes me think of] Jessie Woolley-Wilson of DreamBox Learning. She moved up here from the Bay Area. She rented up here thinking, This will be interesting and then I’m going to go home. And now, this is home. I’ve met so many people who share the same set of values that I do. And I hear that from a lot of people.

Q: When I first moved here, I stayed here because of the community. When did you decide this was home?

A: I did my thesis on the Methow Valley and fell in love. They have this saying: If you drink out of the river, you will always return. So of course I did. I ended up in an investment banking job in New York City. And on gray drizzly days in New York City, I’d say, This feels like home [Washington State]. I gotta get home. And I thought, I don’t want to live in a place where it’s a struggle to get to ski or hike or go to the beach. I love that this is a jumping off point to Asia and to Alaska. I loved how it was so wide open socially. I still think this is true to Seattle. You’re a newcomer here, people are going to say: You have something to contribute? Well, come on in.

Q: When you’re on the East Coast, in the first five minutes, everybody asks, Where did you go to school?

A: No one asks you that here!

Note: This interview has been edited and condensed.