When it comes to local government, some players shine in the limelight while others exercise their influence from the wings.
Brian Surratt, director of the City of Seattle’s executive office of economic development, falls into the latter category. His work doesn’t get quite as much attention as that of Mayor Ed Murray or the City Council but he spends each day working on a wide range of initiatives designed to help Seattle’s business and industry flourish.
Surratt leads the “Request for Proposals” process for the redevelopment of Key Arena and Seattle Center into major sports and entertainment venues. His office established the first foreign direct investment program in Seattle and launched President Barack Obama’s TechHire initiative to train women, minorities, and other marginalized groups for technology jobs.
Before his current gig, Surratt worked as senior policy advisor to Mayor Murray, helping implement Seattle’s $15 minimum wage and establishing the Juno Therapeutics headquarters in South Lake Union.
He held a leadership role at an Oregon IT company, worked as a legislative aid at the state level, and ran public affairs for the Seattle Seahawks.
Surratt was born in Korea and raised on a cattle ranch in Oklahoma by a military veteran father and Korean immigrant mother. He lives in Seattle with his wife and 10-year-old daughter, whom he returns to at 6:30 p.m. for a sit-down dinner every night.
We caught up with Surratt to learn how he balances his demanding career, family life, and personal goals for this installment of Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.
Current Location: West Seattle
Computer types: Acer laptop at home and a HP EliteBook at work
Mobile devices: Two iPhone 7s; gold for the personal phone and black for work. It is cumbersome to constantly carry two phones, but as someone who works in the public sector, it is very important to keep all official government work separate from my personal communications.
Favorite apps, cloud services, and software tools: I love music and Spotify is for music lovers. Headspace is a wonderful app I discovered a year ago to help with my daily guided meditation; it has a wide array of topics to select from including sharpening focus, managing stress, and increasing physical performance, OneBusAway, Signal for secure messaging, and FaceTime. For work, I love Tableau’s suite of data analytics and visualization tools. When I became economic development director, we created an entirely new economic intelligence function for the city, and we worked with Tableau to use the City’s Open Data Portal and to track business, construction and development activity, labor and employment data.
Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? I have a standup desk. I sit a lot in meetings and when I come back to my standup, I feel physically reengaged.
Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? Whatever you are doing, be focused and fully present in that moment. Also, maintaining a certain level of discipline in your life and work can provide incredible degrees of freedom.
Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? Facebook. For work, I use Facebook to highlight the work my office does to support our economic development priorities. In a particular, I like to showcase great individuals and stories that demonstrate when economic growth and equity goals are aligned, communities are stronger.
Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? Zero. I just purged it. I try to purge at least once a week; I feel so much better afterwards. I typically only check email twice a day – late morning and at the end of the day. I flag a handful of key individuals for incoming emails but those are exceptions as I try not to let responding to emails dictate my workflow. Texts or Signal messages are my preferred methods of communications, especially if a matter needs immediate attention.
Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? Over 30 a week. Way too many. Ridiculous. I try to keep them to 30 minutes max.
How do you run meetings? Every meeting must have a clear agenda, goals, and hopefully an “ask” or specific next steps. I want folks to engage with me and others as much as possible; the best meetings are spirited and free-flowing and focused on problem-solving.
Everyday work uniform? I typically wear a suit and tie. It is great that Seattle has a relaxed and open professional dress culture, where a person can be under- or over-dressed in any given work setting and no one really seems to care – as long as the work gets done. But personally, when I throw on my suit and tie, I feel like I am putting on my “game-face” and sending a signal to colleagues and community partners that I am serious about my work and serious about engaging them.
How do you make time for family? Sharing food is a big part of our family’s joy. I try to be home by 6:30 p.m. and have a sit-down dinner with my family every night. I am fortunate to have so many family members who live so close; I have a 10-year old daughter and two younger nieces and nephews within walking distance and almost every evening around dinner time, our house or my in-laws’ house is full of chatter and wonderful energy. I enjoy cooking, and on the weekends I spend a lot of time cooking for the family. I typically prepare a nice Sunday evening meal to help us close the weekend and prepare us for the work and school week ahead.
Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? I love my daily morning workouts, summer camping trips with family and friends, cooking, a nice glass of whiskey, and watching college football.
What are you listening to? I’m a huge Prince fan and keep his playlist ready to go always. Recently, I have been listening to a lot of Big Boi, Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino, Anderson.Paak. I also enjoy several podcasts, including “On Being”, “The Right Time with Bomani Jones”, “The Ezra Klein Show”, and “RadioLab.”.
Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? The Economist’s daily “Espresso,” Brain Pickings, Vox, and Very Smart Brothas — VSB (if you have not heard of VSB, it is a brilliant daily digital magazine offering commentary, essay, and humor about news, pop culture, race, and sex – so good).
Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? Origins of Political Order by Francis Fukuyama, The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin, and The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus.
Night owl or early riser? What are your sleep patterns? I am an early riser and try to be disciplined with my sleep. I am asleep between 9:30 and 10 p.m. and awake by 4:30 a.m. every morning, including on the weekends. I need the six and a half to seven hours to feel rested and ready to face the day.
Where do you get your best ideas? I love the quiet and solitude of the morning. I feel the sharpest and most open to ideas after my morning workout, meditation and journaling.
Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? Barack Obama.