Patton. Eisenhower. Bradley. Grant. Lee.
Great generals all have different leadership tactics on the field of battle. And it’s no different with the crop of tech leaders in our next category in the GeekWire Awards voting: CEO of the Year.
Each of these leaders exhibited something special as they built their respective companies over the past 12 months, overcoming challenges, raising capital, securing key customers or hiring talented subordinates.
The CEO job is not an easy one, so we’re excited to recognize the five finalists below, chosen from a huge pool of well-qualified contenders during the nomination process earlier this month.
If you’re just tuning in, we’re in the midst of picking the winners in 13 categories — ranging from Young Entrepreneur of Year to Next Tech Titan to Geekiest Office Space — as part of the annual GeekWire Awards.
Over the next two weeks, we’re opening voting in each of 13 categories, with GeekWire readers choosing their top picks. All of the winners will be revealed at the GeekWire Awards — presented by Wave Broadband — on May 7 at EMP.
Now in its seventh year, the Awards bash is a giant party that celebrates innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit in the Pacific Northwest. Tickets are available here or below.
A big thanks to EY, the presenting sponsor for this year’s CEO of the Year category. Vote in the poll below, and keep reading for descriptions of each of our finalists this year.
Barry Crist, CEO of Chef: Barry Crist took over the reins of Seattle-based Chef — formerly Opscode — amid some of the most difficult circumstances. In 2013, Chef CEO Mitch Hill was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, an illness that later claimed the 55-year-old tech executive’s life.
Even with those tragic beginnings to his tenure as CEO of Chef, Crist has been able to persevere. Chef, a maker of IT automation software, is among the fastest-growing technology companies in the region. At the company’s ChefConf earlier this month, Crist announced that it now boasts more than 700 commercial business customers, helping to propel revenues more than 192 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014. Its Chef IT automation platform has more than doubled, downloaded more than 16 million times.
The company raised $32 million in funding in late 2013, and continues to grow, taking over a former lumber warehouse in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood. Crist started his career in sales at Apple before moving on to Mercury Interactive, and then leading Seattle area startup Likewise (sold to EMC/Isilon).
Carlos Guestrin, CEO of Dato: Who says academics can’t make the transition to entrepreneurship? Guestrin, the Amazon Professor of Machine Learning in Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington and a past GeekWire Geek of the Week, is looking to make his mark with Dato (formerly GraphLab). The Seattle startup, which raised $18.5 million earlier this year, is looking to help businesses make better sense of data. “Our company was founded on a mission to create a more intelligent world,” said Guestrin at the time of the financing.
Hailing from Brazil, Guestrin studied computer science at Stanford University before moving on to Carnegie Mellon where the concept for Dato was originally born. In 2012, he joined the University of Washington’s faculty before spinning the open-source project off into its own company.
Peter Hamilton, CEO of Tune: While Tune was founded by the twin brothers of Lucas and Lee Brown, Peter Hamilton has certainly put his mark on the fast-growing maker of mobile marketing technologies. Bootstrapped during its early years, Hamilton has kept that lean and focused approach to the business, even though the Seattle company scored $27 million in fresh funding earlier this year.
Tune, with customers like Uber and The New York Times, is growing incredibly fast. It topped 250 employees last year, and more than doubled revenue to $40 million in 2014.
A professionally-trained Opera singer who attended the University of Texas at Austin, Hamilton said he’s been humbled by the experience at the company.
“You’ve called me out when I needed to listen, you challenged my methods while supporting my leadership, and you profoundly changed me,” Hamilton wrote in a letter to the company last December. “I’m a part of something so much bigger than myself, and I feel more prepared than ever to face whatever comes our way.”
Scott McFarlane, CEO of Avalara: Sales tax automation is not really that sexy. But under the leadership of Avalara CEO Scott McFarlane, everything just is more fun — even figuring out efficient ways to help online businesses track sales taxes across various jurisdictions. Yes, there are the margarita and surfing parties, and then everything in that bright orange motif (even the toilet paper rolls in the Avalara bathrooms are a bright orange).
But McFarlane, who studied economics at Claremont McKenna College, co-founding a fitness equipment company with his college roommate, is not just ripping it up at the company’s Bainbridge Island and Seattle locations. Last November, McFarlane helped orchestrate a whopping $100 million investment from private equity giant Warburg Pincus, money that has helped the 800-person company grow aggressively through acquisitions and product development.
“This is no secret,” McFarlane told GeekWire last fall. “The concept of doing sales tax manually in a digital world is just crazy. It will be automated.”
Liz Pearce, CEO of LiquidPlanner: Liz Pearce took the helm of project management software maker LiquidPlanner three years ago, and has not looked back since. At the time of her appointment, co-founder Charles Seybold said he could not think of anyone better to “be steering the ship.”
And that is just what Pearce has done, growing LiquidPlanner’s business in a crowded market that includes entrenched players like Microsoft as well as heavily-funded startups.
Pearce — who describes herself as a “Type-A perfectionist control-freak” — raised $8 million in funding last year. That’s not a ton of money when compared to some of the company’s bigger rivals, but Pearce says she like the role of underdog.
Don’t forget to grab your tickets for the GeekWire Awards. This event usually sells out. And this year, things will be especially geeky as we open up the amazing Star Wars costume exhibit at EMP to all GeekWire Awards guests. What better way to get your geek on than go face-to-face with Chewbacca!