Mitch Hill
Mitch Hill

Mitch Hill, the former CEO of Avanade and Opscode, passed away Wednesday after a nine-month battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 55.

A fierce competitor who earned a black belt in karate and raced motorcycles as a kid, Hill participated in bicycling events and water sports throughout the Northwest. In fact, it was that competitive spirit that kept driving Hill even after the diagnosis of cancer earlier this year.

From the time of his diagnosis in March until early this week, Hill thought he would beat the cancer, recalled his longtime friend and Opscode co-worker Paul Edelhertz.

“He wanted to work as long as he could work, and he stayed deeply connected all the way literally to the absolute end,” said Edelhertz. “I will never forget when he told me about his diagnosis and I asked him about his prognosis and he said: ‘The numbers are terrible and I am never going to look at it again, because I am going to be the exception.’ I think, actually, even until Monday that’s what he was thinking. That was the type of dude he was.”

Working at Avanade and later at Opscode, Hill would ride his bike from his home in Bellevue to the companies’ offices in Seattle.

“He was super competitive,” said Edelhertz, noting that Hill would still “smoke people” on his bicycle who were 10 to 15 years younger.

Edelhertz attributed Hill’s competitive drive and strong leadership skills to his early childhood, growing up in humble surroundings with seven siblings and a single mom.

Hill was born on Oct. 2, 1958 in San Pedro, California, and graduated from Westminster High School in 1976, where he met his wife Cherie.  He graduated with a degree in economics from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.

After graduation, he took a job at Arthur Andersen and Company (now Accenture), rising quickly through the management ranks. “He kind of blew the doors off the place,” remembered his friend and former Arthur Andersen co-worker Edelhertz, who later joined Hill at Opscode.

“He stood out as not one of your traditional ‘Accenture guys.’ He was an incredibly good fit in the place in terms of somebody who clients loved and did a great job, but the really amazing thing about Mitch was that everybody wanted to work for him. He was a magnet for the best people,” recalled Edelhertz, noting that his management skills created deep loyalty.

But it wasn’t just business with Hill, who extended his relationships with people beyond the office walls. Edelhertz — who described himself as a “directionless single guy” at Arthur Andersen — was one of the beneficiaries of Hill’s outgoing nature. Even with a young family, Hill would invite Edelhertz out on family camping trips.

Opscode founder Jesse Robbins, left, handed the CEO reins to tech veteran Mitch Hill, right in 2011.
Opscode founder Jesse Robbins, left, handed the CEO reins to tech veteran Mitch Hill, right in 2011.

On one occasion, the two men were traveling to a friend’s wedding in Cabo San Lucas when Hill just happened to strike up a friendship with a few of the families on the plane. “They happened to be staying at the same hotel we were at, ended up going to the wedding with us, and now those same two families who he met on the plane were basically with him 24-7 in the hospital and at his house in the last six weeks,” recalled Edelhertz. “That’s the kind of guy he was.”

Hill used those leadership and personnel skills to form Avanade, a Seattle-based joint venture between Microsoft and Accenture. He led Avanade as its founding CEO until 2008, growing it into a consulting powerhouse with about 9,000 employees. Earlier this week when the current CEO of Avanade sent out a note to staffers about Hill’s death, the response was overwhelming, with 1,000 responses from staffers in the first few hours.

“The other thing about Mitch, he was always calm,” said Edelhertz. “No matter what kind of craziness with his customers or clients or inside his company or with his big crazy family, he was always that guy who was that sort of rock calmness.”

In 2011, Hill surprised some when he jumped to Opscode, a small Seattle IT automation startup that had just raised a round of venture financing. At the time, Hill told GeekWire that he was excited to play a role in an early-stage technology company, talking to customers and leading stand-up meetings with the dev team.

“It is just a hell of a lot of fun,” he said.

Opscode CEO Barry Crist, who assumed the CEO duties after Hill’s diagnosis earlier this year, said Hill will be missed.

“Mitch made a huge impact on the company, and he’s one of these guys who was larger than life, and just touched a lot of people, both in his professional and personal life,” said Crist.

Jay Wampold, vice president of marketing at Opscode, said that Hill exuded a quiet confidence.

“He had an easy hand at the wheel,” said Wampold. “If you talk to anyone, from folks who worked with him over at Avanade to anywhere in his career, he was someone that inspired people to do their best work. He just brought the best out in people. It is a tremendous loss.”

Hill his survived by his wife Cherie, and grown sons Mitchell and Matthew. A memorial service is planned for the Museum of Flight on Thursday, Dec. 19th. It is open to the public. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Hingorani Lab at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Comments

  • Ricky89

    Sounds like he was great man. Condolences to family and friends.

  • Bill Bryant

    I was fortunate enough to have been an early investor at Opscode, and was very involved with recruiting Mitch into the company as CEO. Opscode is poised to be one of the ten most important tech startups over the coming decade, and Mitch was instrumental in this. Without his leadership, Opscode would not have reached its full potential. I know that I am blessed to have known the man – as I told my partners (who also knew him), Mitch was the CEO from central casting – smart, decisive, charismatic, led from the front, incredible EQ, a motivator who convinced everyone that the impossible was possible, an innate ability to inspire. He was the kind of leader who won Medal of Honors in WW II. Life is capricious and unfair but I know that I will always remember Mitch as being the best of what we all aspire to become as entrepreneurs. I’m thankful that I had an opportunity to know him.

  • Kevin Bellinger

    Mitch was one of the best CEO’s I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. His Down to Earth attitude and attention to detail were phenomenal. His monthly ‘Moment With Mitch’ videos to the Avanade organization were legendary – and most of the employees actually watched it monthly.

  • Michelle Loeb Vega

    We Will Miss You Mitch! Always A Kind Friend! Love To All The Hill Family!!
    The Vega Family..

  • Chris Burry

    I had the honor to work with Mitch at the very beginning of Avanade. As another poster said below, he was the best CEO I have ever worked for or worked with. He will be greatly missed.

  • Sanjay Mehrotra

    Mitch was one of the best CEO’s I’ve ever come across while working in a large organization. Very down to earth and humble person and he was always approachable even though we had so many employees (at Avanade)…. He was one of the main reasons there was an “Avanade culture” instead of the Accenture mentality which is now pervasive across the organization…. I am thankful for having the opportunity to have known him -albeit for a very short time…

  • jhotta

    生前は、色々お世話になりました。ご冥福をお祈りします。

  • An old colleague

    RIP Mitch, you were a beacon for many of us back at Andersen. Your legacy lives on in all those you mentored and grew over the years..

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