Storm owner and former Microsoft GM Dawn Trudeau joins Alumni Foundation board
February 13, 2012
‘This is my alumni group’
Microsoft did not necessarily “make” Dawn Trudeau what she is today: A highly successful tech and marketing executive turned philanthropist, and leader of the ownership group of Seattle’s professional women’s basketball team.
Had Microsoft not sprung up next to BurgerMaster on her drive to work in Kirkland in the early 1980s, the savvy, opportunistic Trudeau likely would have climbed the ladder at some other tech titan or industry powerhouse.
But she counts her blessings when it comes to Microsoft. After working at a restaurant through high school and never attending college, Trudeau achieved executive status and wealth in her 14 years (1984-98) at Microsoft. So now she is giving back to the company as a new member of the Microsoft Alumni Foundation’s board of directors.
“For me, because I didn’t go to college, this is my alumni group,” says the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, native. “There are some extremely talented, interesting, and fun people who have worked at Microsoft… To be able to get this population to do good things is something that I want to be a part of.”
For the Alumni Foundation board, it’s a great way to tap the brain of not just an accomplished alum but also someone who has also made her mark in philanthropy and community service. Trudeau is an active member and serves on the board of Social Venture Partners International. She also is chairperson of Force 10 Hoops LLC, the group that owns the Seattle Storm of the WNBA.
“Dawn is an extremely thoughtful contributor. Her input pushes us beyond the obvious to ask better questions and do deeper analysis,” says Marylou Brannan, executive director of the Microsoft Alumni Foundation. “I look forward to her contributions on how to grow and engage the Microsoft alumni community and, in turn, have more philanthropic impact.”
How stepping up to help paid off
Trudeau’s career story, recounted recently over lunch at a Mercer Island bistro, is a fascinating one. And that’s not just because in recent years she helped rescue the Storm from being shipped off to Oklahoma City, although that adds to her allure as a “self-made woman” who is not afraid to take risks.
Raised in central Iowa in the 1960s and 70s, Trudeau had no grandiose expectations about life and work when she started on the assembly line for an Ann Arbor, Mich., manufacturing company in 1976. “I got into the computer industry by accident,” she says.
Companies across the country, including this one, began turning to computers and software to automate their operations for more efficiencies. Trudeau stepped up — “volunteered,” she says — to learn how to assist in the automation process. “That got me involved in software, in 1977.” In due time, college degree or not, she developed skills that were in high demand.
Trudeau was lured to a Swiss printing press manufacturing company with operations in New Jersey. As fate would have it, she met her first husband there in New York, and moved with him to Seattle in 1982. Once here, she helped start a software company to aid organizations in automating their operations, and it frequently put her in direct touch with customers. The startup was sold after a year, but “this is where I knew I was interested in marketing.”
It was in her next job as a systems analyst for Teltone’s Kirkland division that she noticed Microsoft setting up shop on Northup Way and became intrigued by the young company where developers often brought their dogs to work. Sensing a chance to get back into marketing, she applied there in 1984, interviewed, and got hired as a financial systems analyst in a matter of days.
Microsoft in 1984: small, entrepreneurial
In June of 1984, Microsoft employed about 500 people, spread over four buildings (the other three were across State Route 520 in a complex later called Corporate Campus East, where Trudeau first worked). “It was bigger than anyplace I’d ever worked, but it still seemed small,” she recalls. “It had an entrepreneurial feel…. We had pizza parties. Jon Shirley was president then, and he’d be there.”
Microsoft began bursting at the seams and opened its Redmond campus in 1986, the same year the company went public. Yes, stock options began infusing the bank accounts of many employees. Trudeau got her first real marketing job in 1987 in Microsoft’s Applications product group, and it became a launching pad for her career.
She became a product manager, group product manager, and, ultimately, a general manager — first for database and development tools, and later for consumer products. In time, she marketed the Macintosh line of applications, Excel, Access, Publisher, Works, BOB, and a host of other products. She created an organization to do direct marketing to customers. Microsoft grew more than 1,000% in her 14 years, and worked many employees’ fingers to the bone (but left them with much more than bony fingers).
Essentially set for life, and tired of working “massive hours,” she left the company in 1998 to devote full time to philanthropy. Her marketing skills developed, her management skills refined, she was ready to begin helping nonprofits grow and thrive.
‘I really wanted to get involved in the community’
Some other ex-Microsofties — most notably, Scott Oki, Bill Neukom, and Ida Cole — had formed Social Venture Partners (SVP) of Seattle in 1997 along with Paul Brainerd and Doug and Maggie Walker. “I had joined SVP when it started up, and I really wanted to get involved in the community. When I left Microsoft, I got deeply involved in SVP; I’ve done nearly every job there.” She was co-chairwoman of the SVP board of directors for four years, has served on most of its committees, and served as lead partner for five years (1998-2003).
SVP has now been modeled in 23 other cities internationally, and Trudeau is a member of SVP’s international board. But she also has focused much of her time in leadership roles for nonprofits that provide mentoring, education, and opportunities for young women, such as the Seattle Girls’ School and the Women’s Center at the University of Washington.
So how did she become a part-owner of the Seattle Storm? “It was fundamentally driven by being a fan and wanting to provide opportunities for women,” she says.
Trudeau says she never played organized sports as a youth, because … well, because there were few opportunities in the 1960s and 70s for young women until Title IX finally kicked in. But after moving to Seattle, she became a rabid fan of the Seahawks, then the Sonics, then Seattle’s first women’s pro basketball team, the Reign. The Reign and its pro league folded after two years, but the WNBA emerged and Seattle was awarded an expansion team in 2000. Trudeau was among the first season-ticket holders of the Storm.
When the Sonics were sold by Howard Schultz’s investor group to the Clay Bennett group in 2004, the Storm was to be part of the sale and the move to Oklahoma City. Trudeau joined forces with friends and fellow season-ticket holders Lisa Brummel, Microsoft’s human resources director (who reported to Trudeau for a time at Microsoft); Ginny Gilder, who also served on the Seattle Girls’ School board, and Anne Levinson, a former Seattle deputy mayor and municipal court judge, to make a bid to buy the Storm. “Bennett initially said he was not interested in selling the Storm, but we convinced him it would be more successful in Seattle. It truly is a community asset,” Trudeau says. After a period of negotiations, he agreed to relinquish the Storm and keep it in Seattle.
The purchase price was $10 million. As chairperson of the ownership group, she admits that for the first few years, being an owner was a full-time job. The team is still not profitable, though it is inching closer. “Everything I’ve learned in business and in nonprofits has been useful to me here — my financial analyst work, marketing, you name it. Sports are really a different animal from anything I was involved in before.” But the Storm’s CEO, Karen Bryant, has grown in the job and made being an owner much less work in recent years, Trudeau says.
‘Amazing capacity within this alumni group’
And that is allowing her now to give some of her time to the Microsoft Alumni Foundation board. Among her goals: helping increase membership from the pool of some 80,000 Microsoft alums. “I think there is such an amazing capacity within this alumni group, and I’ve seen what can happen in my work with SVP. I do believe that people can make the world a better place.”
Why join the Microsoft Alumni Foundation? “You have a lot of resources and opportunities in front of you [with the foundation],” she says. “Some of the most meaningful and satisfying work I’ve done has been work that has benefitted others. The Microsoft Alumni Foundation is working to connect you to those opportunities, so you can feel as good as I do about giving back.”
Monte Enbysk is a Microsoft alum (1999-2010) and a Bellevue-based editor and writer.