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Mariners owner John Stanton speaks at GeekWire Startup Day in 2015. (GeekWire File Photo / Kevin Lisota)

John Stanton has been leading great teams for more than four decades.

The respected tech luminary helped pioneer and transform the mobile industry, serving in executive roles at companies such as McCaw Cellular and VoiceStream Wireless, the predecessor of the modern day T-Mobile. He co-founded Trilogy, a longstanding Seattle-area venture capital firm. The Microsoft and Costco board member even coached youth baseball — six years each for his two sons.

So it comes as little surprise to longtime colleagues and friends that the Seattle Mariners are making a long-awaited postseason run with Stanton at the helm.

Stanton, 67, became chairman and CEO of the team in 2016. Under his watch, the franchise went through a rebuilding process, winning just 68 of 162 games in 2019.

But last year the team nearly made the postseason. And in 2022, the Mariners broke the longest active playoff drought in sports, electrifying the city and garnering respect across the country.

On Saturday, the M’s will host their first playoff game in 21 years at T-Mobile Park.

The baseball buzz is back in Seattle.

“It’s really John’s leadership that made this possible,” said Jeff Raikes, a former Microsoft exec and minority owner of the team.

People and structure

Stanton, a lifelong Seattle-area resident and Mariners fan, is a hands-off sports franchise owner. He leaves much of the day-to-day decision-making to the baseball experts and front office leaders.

But behind the scenes, he’s helped set a cultural foundation. Stanton starts every ownership group meeting with a slide that states the team’s mission: We’re dedicated to winning championships, creating unforgettable experiences for our fans, and serving our communities.

“Every day, I try to think in terms of our mission,” Stanton told GeekWire, speaking from T-Mobile Park on Friday.

Stanton also made key personnel calls. He’s remained committed to general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais, keeping the pair together even through losing seasons and public criticism. The continuity is seen by some as a crucial part of the team’s success.

“You’ve got to stand behind your people,” Stanton said. “And they need to know that you’re standing behind them.”

It’s a leadership philosophy rooted in other Stanton-led teams.

“He invests in the people around him,” said Amy Nam McCullough, partner at Trilogy. “He empowers them with the ability to make decisions and make mistakes and take the wins.”

Hope Cochran, a managing director at Madrona Venture Group who worked with Stanton at Clearwire, said he has “a fabulous combination of strong discernment and leadership full of integrity, combined with ensuring that he’s using the best talents on his team.”

Stanton also brings business savvy to the Mariners. Last year he implemented a new leadership structure, separating the baseball and front office operations. The team hired Catie Griggs, its first-ever female president described as “an amazing talent” by Raikes, who led the hiring search committee.

“When leaders can recognize, attract, and retain great talent, and then put them in a structure where they can be at their best — that’s generally when good things happen,” said Raikes, former CEO of the Gates Foundation. “And John has done that throughout his career.”

Passion for the game, and job

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Many describe Stanton as a long-term thinker and an incredible listener who is constantly curious.

“When you talk with him, he is very directly engaged in what is on your mind and what’s critical to you,” said Peter van Oppen, a partner at Trilogy and longtime friend of Stanton. “You never have a sense that he’s looking past you to a more important problem.”

Stanton also brings a level of passion to the job. He’s often seen sitting behind home plate during games keeping score with pen and paper. “I think he finds work really fun,” said Cochran.

A graduate of Newport High School in Bellevue and Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., Stanton is an active philanthropist along with his wife, Terry Gillespie, also a wireless industry leader. He’s chairman at Year Up of Puget Sound, a nonprofit that provides career training for young adults, and has chaired or co-chaired the Business Partnership for Early Learning and the United Way of King County campaign.

Stanton is “often the quiet force behind great things being done,” said Bob Ratliffe, a former colleague at McCaw Cellular.

Others leaders in Major League Baseball have taken notice. Commissioner Rob Manfred recently appointed Stanton to lead the league’s competition committee that makes decisions on rule changes. “It’s a great example of his leadership,” Raikes said.

Beyond baseball, the Mariners’ business side is prioritizing revenue increases. The team’s community impact arm launched a new fellowship program and put $3 million toward an eviction prevention initiative.

Asked if this was the most fun job he’s ever had, Stanton responded quickly: “Absolutely.”

The Mariners recently signed long-term deals with its ace pitcher and rookie phenom. The roster is lined with reliable pitching and formidable defense. It might get even better for Stanton and his hometown in the years to come.

“We’ve ended up with a great core team that we’re committed to for a number of years,” Stanton said, “and I believe will bring a championship to Seattle.”

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