Trending: Farewell, Phantom Express: Boeing is pulling out of DARPA space plane program
Avalara CEO Scott McFarlane takes home the CEO of the Year award at the 2015 GeekWire Awards
Avalara CEO Scott McFarlane wins the CEO of the Year award at the 2015 GeekWire Awards.

Community voting opens today in the GeekWire Awards, and we’re starting with a biggie: CEO of the Year.

Awards 2016This category recognizes the top executives who are making a huge difference at their respective companies, leading with passion, smarts and tactical vision.

The CEO’s job is not an easy one, so we’re excited to recognize the five finalists below, chosen from dozens of well-qualified contenders during the nomination process earlier this month.

Over the next two weeks, we’re opening voting in each of 13 categories, with GeekWire readers choosing their top picks. Voting is open through May 3 in all categories. (Check back on GeekWire each day to cast your ballots, or visit here to see the other categories). All of the winners will be revealed at the GeekWire Awards — presented by Wave — on May 12 at EMP.

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.

Henry Albrecht
Limeade CEO Henry Albrecht

Henry Albrecht, CEO of Limeade: As a former collegiate basketball player, Henry Albrecht stands tall. And while Albrecht still hoops it up on the hard court, the former basketball captain at Claremont McKenna College is making his mark at Limeade, a Bellevue startup that helps large organizations improve the health of their employees through incentive-based wellness plans.

Founded 10 years ago, Limeade has grown to nearly 200 employees, fueled through key customer relationships with organizations such as Jamba Juice, The Ohio State University, Puget Sound Energy and others. It raised a $25 million venture capital round in 2014, money that Albrecht said they would use to bolster marketing efforts.

He offered some solid advice on building a sales team at this year’s Startup Day event, noting that startups must be flexible when it comes to sales and rigid in its overall vision.

“You have to both listen and ignore,” said Albrecht in his Startup Day talk. “You have to have a vision, and you have to pivot. It’s all a balancing act and that’s why it’s so tough.”

Sarah Bird
Moz CEO Sarah Bird

Sarah Bird, CEO of Moz: Fresh off a $10 million funding round earlier this year, Sarah Bird of Moz is not slowing down. Bird — who earned a law degree from the University of Washington — took over the reins of Moz from founder Rand Fishkin in 2014 at a critical time, and she’s successfully guided the Seattle maker of online marketing software through some rocky patches.

“Late 2013 and early 2014, in particular, tested our mettle. We struggled through a brutal product launch and a bunch of scaling challenges,” wrote Bird in a blog post earlier this year. “We made mistakes large and small, a few of which we’re still working to resolve.”

That sort of straightforward talk has won Bird fans both inside and outside of the company, which is getting back on track. Last year, Moz generated revenue of $38 million, and under Bird’s leadership the company hired an additional 50 people in the fourth quarter of 2015 alone.

“I want to create something lasting and meaningful,” said Bird earlier this year. “We have an ambitious mission.”

Barry Crist of Chef
Chef CEO Barry Crist

Barry Crist, CEO of Chef: Chef CEO Barry Crist leads with humility and passion as he continues to the grow the Seattle-based IT automation platform, acquiring German-based VulcanoSec. Just last week, Chef streamlined operations, never an easy decision for a CEO. But Crist believes the company will emerge from that restructuring much stronger as it looks to carve ground in the IT automation arena.

“We’re growing and hiring rapidly and as I stated in a recent company-wide meeting I’ve never been more bullish about our business prospects,” said Crist, who previously served as CEO of Likewise and spent part of his early career with Apple.

Last September, Chef announced a $40 million Series E round that pushed total funding to $103 million.

The 230-person company now boasts more than 750 customers, with customers such as Facebook, GE, Nordstrom, IBM, and Target are among its clients.

Aaron Easterly
Rover CEO Aaron Easterly

Aaron Easterly, CEO of An online pet sitting marketplace may not be the geekiest of pursuits, but is growing fast under the analytical mind of Aaron Easterly.

Easterly, a former executive at online advertising powerhouse aQuantive, raised $25 million for last year from venture capital firm Technology Crossover Ventures.

He’s used the money to grow’s market share, expanding into new markets so that Fido, Bear and Henry always have a pleasant place to stay.

Total funding in the 4-year-old company now stands at more than $50 million, with investors including Foundry Group, Madrona Venture Group, Menlo Ventures, and Petco. It boasts more than 40,000 pet sitters in its network.

RealSelf CEO Tom Seery
RealSelf CEO Tom Seery

Tom Seery, CEO of RealSelf: A disciple of Expedia and Zillow founder Rich Barton, RealSelf is making a mark in the oftentimes misunderstood and confusing world of plastic surgery. Seery’s approach? A no-nonsense and straightforward way of explaining the good and bad of plastic surgery, helping people all over the planet find the treatments that are best for them.

He founded RealSelf in 2006, and has continued to grow the operation by stressing the importance of community and unlocking information that had previously been secured behind closed doors.  He describes RealSelf as the “TripAdvisor to the body, face and smile.”

In a blog post last year, Seery shared why it was a benefit for his company to get sued early on its history, noting how it matured him as a CEO and led to more prominence for the company’s cause. RealSelf also has grown through its own profits, getting off the ground with just $750,000 in startup capital. It has doubled its staff in the past 12 months to just over 100 employees.

Cast your vote above for CEO of the Year in the 2016 GeekWire Awards.

Tickets are on sale now for this annual celebration of the very best of the Pacific Northwest tech scene, so go here or below to get yours before we sell out.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to GeekWire's free newsletters to catch every headline


Job Listings on GeekWork

Find more jobs on GeekWork. Employers, post a job here.