Marilyn Strickland likes mixing things up. She has transitioned between the corporate world of Starbucks, two terms as mayor of Tacoma and now CEO and president of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, a 137-year-old nonprofit representing business interests.
“My upbringing and background has forced me to navigate a lot of different worlds simultaneously,” she said.
Strickland connects the dots between seemingly disconnected causes: the public and private sectors or different cities and varied interests that sometimes run counter to each other.
Her goal? Focus on what unites, rather than what divides.
One year ago, Strickland took her career on a new path, joining the chamber as CEO. As the region’s largest business advocacy group with 2,400 members employing more than 700,000 people, Strickland said she was intrigued with the opportunity to focus on core issues such as housing affordability, transportation, education and workforce development.
“We believe that thriving communities need vibrant businesses,” Strickland said, “and we understand that we have a role to play in managing the rapid changes and growth we’re experiencing in our region.” And those challenges were front and center shortly after Strickland took the new job as the City of Seattle passed and then later repealed the controversial head tax — also known as the “Amazon tax” —a measure that would have taxed some of the city’s largest employers in an effort to fund affordable housing. The Chamber took an active role in the debate, and Strickland’s political skills were put to the test.
As mayor of Tacoma, Strickland was particularly proud of launching a paid, summer internship program for high school students; her work on Sound Transit 3, the plan to expand mass transit regionally; and winning voter approval of the first Tacoma tax increase in decades to pay for street repairs.
In her new role, Strickland said that the housing crisis is the toughest challenge, and suggested that the region needs to begin viewing affordable housing as it does other basic infrastructure, like roads, water and broadband. When it comes to tackling affordable housing, “we’ve done big things in this region,” she said, “and we’re up for the task.”
Formerly the subject of interviews, Strickland has flipped the microphone, launching a new podcast for the chamber called Under Construction.
Through her podcast, Strickland is interviewing chamber members and local leaders, sharing the stories of the people “behind the brands.” In her second installation, which posted this week, Strickland chatted with GeekWire co-founder John Cook. She launched the podcast with Adriane Brown, a board member at eBay and former Intellectual Ventures executive who was recently named a venture partner at the venture capital firm Flying Fish.
Strickland is this week’s Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading below for her answers to our questionnaire.
Computer types: Microsoft Surface at work, MacBook at home
Mobile devices: iPhone, iPad
Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: Shazam, Apple Maps, Trip Advisor
Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? My office has a standing desk, a small meeting table, white board, floor to ceiling windows and a desk facing west. The space works for me because I can work alone and with others. I have a view of ferries, tugs and container ships making their journeys, and buildings representing 100 years of architectural styles. There is a construction crane right outside my window, which can be distracting. I have a view of Seattle’s past, present and to some degree, its future.
Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? Don’t take yourself so seriously that you lose your sense of humor. Stop wearing busy like it’s a badge of honor and never apologize for prioritizing your family and friends. Schedule at least six hours during your work week to think in solitude about anything — it doesn’t need to be job related. Take responsibility for your mistakes but don’t let them define you.
Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? LinkedIn is my preferred social network. It’s troll-free and focuses on leadership advice and posts to uplift and assist people with their professional (and personal) journeys. It has a positive vibe but provides space to discuss issues that make people uncomfortable but need attention — always in the spirit of improvement. I also use it to promote regionalism, events for the Seattle Metro Chamber and our podcast, Under Construction.
I do follow people on Twitter and some of the threads are hilarious — especially during awards shows, weekly TV series and sporting events. There is no substitute for Leslie Jones’ play-by-play tweets of “Game of Thrones” accompanied by her narration of scenes.
Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? On average, more than a dozen a day.
Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? 30, which I consider an average week. I try and manage my schedule to avoid running from meeting to meeting but obviously am not always successful.
How do you run meetings? Scheduling meetings in 30-minute blocks forces you to be more efficient, understanding that larger meetings will require more time. I start every meeting by asking what we hope to accomplish so we stay focused and on track. I also ask if meetings are necessary when a text, phone call or quick conversation can resolve an issue.
Everyday work uniform? What to wear to work should be the easiest decision to make each day. I prefer skirts, jackets, pants, and dresses that are black, navy or gray and made of natural fabrics. I’m not a fan of prints and if I throw in a splash of color, it will be a jewel tone. As a regular transit rider who walks a lot downtown, nothing is more important than comfort from head to toe.
How do you make time for family? I have a weekly standing date with my mom (but I usually see her at least three times per week), and my husband and I enjoy hanging out at home or accompanying each other on work-related trips. Our family is spread out geographically, so winter holidays are when we are likely to see each other the most.
Best stress reliever? Listening to music is the best stress relief and I sometimes forget how it can have such a positive impact on my mood and state of mind.
How do you unplug? We rent a flat in Seattle that has no Wi-Fi or television. Printed books and magazines are under-appreciated, as is conversation without the distraction of mobile devices.
What are you listening to? My current playlist includes some of my favorite ’80s and ’90s British artists such as Sade, Soul II Soul, Style Council, The Brand New Heavies, Everything but the Girl, Lisa Stansfield, Simply Red and Tears for Fears.
Daily reads? Seattle Times, Tacoma News Tribune, Crosscut, New York Times
Favorite sites and newsletters? GeekWire, Economist, Atlantic, New York Magazine, The Onion
Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? “Becoming” by Michelle Obama, “The Best American Short Stories 2018” as selected by Roxane Gay, “White Rage” by Carol Anderson
Night owl or early riser? Does staying up until 10 p.m. on weekdays make me a night owl?
What are your sleep patterns? They vary depending on my schedule. I’ve learned that it’s best to put away the devices for at least a half hour before going to bed. It really does help. A long nap in the late afternoon on a Saturday during winter is sublime.
Where do you get your best ideas? Riding the bus or commuter train to and from Tacoma where I tend to jot down a lot of notes.
Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? President Barack Obama is a voracious reader known for being drama-free and staying cool under immense pressure. He thinks big, exudes a humble confidence and is an inspirational communicator.