25 Most Influential People in Seattle 2020
These innovators took bold actions and big risks during a trying year
By Rob Smith
December 2, 2020
Meet Seattle’s movers and shakers. From restauranteurs and tech pioneers to political leaders and educators, these 25 people have made waves throughout Seattle and Washington as a whole.
Laura Clise had no way of knowing her business would become 2020’s “Next Big Thing.” Clise is chief executive officer and founder of Intentionalist, an online directory of about 3,000 small businesses owned by women, people of color, veterans, LBGTQ, families and differently abled people. Clise, who has a background in corporate social responsibility, says the directory is aimed at consumers who care as much about whom they’re supporting as what they’re buying.
The spark for the business, which Clise founded three years ago, came during a vacation to Thailand. She became frustrated that she had no idea how to spend her money in a way that truly benefited the economy. Clise grew up in Seattle and returned in 2015 after spending 20 years away. She was surprised how much things had changed.
“I quickly realized there was tension because of the rapid growth, and I began to reflect on the kind of community and world I wanted to be part of,” Clise says. “I realized the role of small businesses, especially brick-and-mortar small businesses, is absolutely essential to not only the backbone of our local economies but also the heart and soul of our communities.”
Businesses on the site include retail shops, restaurants, bars and gyms. The site also includes profiles based on interviews with business owners and meet-ups. Fast-growing Intentionalist garnered lots of publicity this year as protests in support of social justice swept the country. Clise envisions a global “spend like it matters” movement in which Intention-alist is an “instigator and accelerator of cultural change.”
“It moves people to action, closing the gap with the great intentions we have and with actions that make a difference,” she says.
An internationally known artist, photographer and filmmaker whose work hangs in the homes of prominent celebrities, Robin Layton’s most recent book, the lake, includes 146 beautiful photographs of Lake Washington divided into the four seasons, so readers can follow the changing life of the lake throughout a calendar year. There are only 2,000 printed copies, and Layton insists there will never be a reprint. Each copy is signed and numbered. She has also published a photo book about Seattle Seahawks fans and drove to 35 states across America photographing the childhood basketball hoops of famous players for her book, hoop the american dream. She snapped the iconic photo of baseball Hall-of-Famer Ken Griffey Jr. on the bottom of a pile at home plate in the 1995 American League playoffs. Layton, who was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her photo story on runaway teenagers in Seattle, has photographed Oprah Winfrey several times and “has photographed everyone from prom queens to actual kings, street people to presidents,” she says on her website.
Hoan Do can ad “potato chip model” to an already successful career. Do, a Seattle resident, is one of 30 people across the country chosen to appear on Lay’s Potato Chip bags. The campaign seeks to shine the light on “ordinary” people doing extraordinary things and benefits Opera-tion Smile, an international charity that provides medical access to people with cleft conditions. Do, whose parents came to America after escaping from Vietnam during the Vietnam War, is a motivational speaker and corporate trainer. He wrote a self-help book, Succeeding in the Real World, and has conducted training sessions for the likes of Bank of America, Honda, Toyota, UBS Financial and the U.S. Army. He was also a finalist on the TV show “American Ninja Warrior.” Do, who says he considered committing suicide in college because of academic stress and the “tremendous pressure” he placed on himself, has racked up numerous honors over the years, including Verizon’s “Motivator Award” and, closer to home, the International Examiner’s “Best Youth Mentor” award.
“Overcoming adversity in life has allowed Hoan to connect with others in a powerful way,” Lay’s says. “Traveling the world as an inspirational speaker, he sends messages of hope and positivity to more than 250,000 students and professionals.”
The campaign launched late this summer and continues until December.
At times the only journalist welcomed in the CHOP/CHAZ autonomous zone on Capitol Hill last summer, Omari Salisbury provided information and videos — often taken on his phone — to news organizations throughout the region and beyond. Often using the handle “Big O,” he was frequently considered the only trusted source for accurate information about what was happening in the neighborhood, which was occupied for more than three weeks last June, and his Twitter feed was a must-read for anyone interested in updates. Salisbury is also chief executive officer and head of marketing, strategy, communication and public relations at Converge Media LLC, which creates videos, podcasts and street-level news coverage for an urban audience.
Phillip Bevis founded one of Seattle’s most popular bookstores, Arundel Books, in Pioneer Square. He recently cofounded a publishing company, Chatwin Books, with book designer Annie Brule. And he’s an unabashed supporter of Seattle’s art scene and its quest for social and racial justice, especially during the chaos that happened in the city in June and July. Chatwin Books recently published Viral Murals: Seattle Artists, Storefront Murals, and the Power of Art During Crisis. The book features murals and other displays of public art painted on closed storefronts across Seattle. The full-color art book includes more than 140 murals and is described on Amazon this way: “How a hopeful spirit, creative talent and a com-munity working together can bring light to a dark time.”
As the cofounder of All in Seattle (now known as All in Washington), Raj Singh led efforts to raise $57 million (as of June 30) that went directly to nonprofit organizations on the front lines of the pandemic. Now managed by the Seattle Foundation, All in Washington is a coalition of public officials, companies, community leaders, United Way organizations and community foundations working to provide quick relief to struggling work-ers and families. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said he would match individual donations of under $1 million, up to a total of $25 million. The group raised $45 million during a virtual concert last June featuring Pearl Jam, Brandi Carlile and Macklemore, rawing 1 million virtual viewers. Singh also serves as chief executive officer of health care organization Accolade, which is headquartered in Seattle and Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania.
Olga Sagan was quick to pivot once the pandemic began — for both herself and her fellow restaurateurs. Sagan, the owner of popular Pike Place Market restaurant Piroshky Piroshky Bakery, created Catch-22Delivery, a free delivery hub for restaurants, fish markets, bakeries, cafes, wineries, breweries and distilleries seeking to bypass traditional third-party delivery apps, which often gobble up to 30% of the cost of a given order. Sagan called the service “a modern-day version of the Yellow Pages for small businesses that desper-ately need to amplify their offerings and raise awareness of their businesses at this devastating time. The key is that we’re directing people straight to the businesses’ websites to order directly from them.” She also created a brand-new breadline for her business and even hosted a three-hour live stream session to publicize the offering. Sagan was named the Small Business Administration’s 2020 Washington Small Business Person of the Year.
Colleen Echohawk and the Chief Seattle Club have searched for radical solutions to alleviate homelessness and racism since the pandemic began. Echohawk is executive director of the Club, a nonprofit that works with Native American and Alaska Native people who are homeless in Seattle. The club offers grab-and-go meals seven days a week and allows members to pick up or drop off mail, use restrooms and helps them apply for housing. The nonprofit says Native people are suffering at higher rates during the pandemic and are 10 times more likely to experience homelessness in King County. The Chief Seattle Club recently received a grant from the city of Seattle to help pay for costs incurred during Covid-19 and to maintain services.
“Our work here seems more precious, more important, more vital than ever,” Echohawk writes. Echohawk earlier this year was awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Medal of Distinguished Service from King County, which recognizes individuals who have answered this question posed by King: “What are you doing for others?”
Dr. Chris Murray
You may have seen Dr. Chris Murray on CNN or Fox News. Maybe it was in the New York Times, or, closer to home, on KOMOnews.com or King5.com. Murray, a health economist and physician, founded the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, an independent global research center that has become a valuable and trusted source of information on the coronavirus. IHME’s coronavirus projections and advice are cited virtually every day by news organizations, health professionals and politicians across the country. The institute assesses the cost-effectiveness of health technologies, works to mea-sure health issues across the world and evaluates strategies to solve them. Murray also serves as an adjunct professor, global health and health services, and is a health metrics sciences professor.
The self-described “Internet Yeller,” Ijeoma Oluo, found her 2018 book, So You Want to Talk About Race, back on the New York Times Bestseller List as protesters rallied across the country after the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who was killed by police in Minneapolis. Along with local artists Ebony Arunga and Gabriel Teodros, Oluo launched the Seattle Artists Relief Fund. Within a week, the fund had raised more than $100,000, five times its original goal. As of September, the fund had raised $938,000 and had helped more than 2,000 members of the Seattle arts com-munity. As Oluo recently wrote in a “final call to action” on the effort’s GoFundMe page, the organization “is the largest source of direct Covid relief funds to artists in Washington state to date.
”The fund is now winding down and Langston — a nonprofit arts organization created to continue the mission of Seattle’s Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute — will work on developing a new program to support local Black artists.
Like everyone else, Federal Way Schools Superintendent Tammy Campbell spent an inordinate amount of time on Zoom calls this past summer. Unlike most everyone else, her challenges came from all sides. Students, parents and teachers all have unique concerns as districts across the Puget Sound region work to prevent the snafus and frustrations that arose from remote learning last spring. Campbell, who is in her sixth year as superintendent of the suburban Seattle district, rallied her team and held dozens of virtual conversa-tions with parents, educators and school staff to learn how to support quality on-line instruction. Campbell, who has been praised for her focus on students, her stewardship of staff and her outreach to parents, oversees a district with 37 schools that serve more than 23,000 students. More than two-thirds are listed “ethnicity other than white.” In 2019, the district posted an 87% graduation rate, its highest of all time and the seventh consecutive year it has increased.
Gov. Jay Inslee
A visitor from New York had a question: “Why didn’t we know more about Jay Inslee when he was running for president?” Like him or not, Inslee’s decisive early response to the pandemic — he was among the first wave of governors to impose lockdown orders in March — as well as his intense focus on climate change, has given him a national reputation. Oxfam America recently ranked Washington as the top state to work based on worker protections, health care and unemployment during the pandemic.
“This crisis has shined a light on the importance of strong worker protections and the far-reaching impacts of income inequality. We must continue to do whatever we can to ensure that workers and families have what they need,” Inslee says. “In Washington, we believe you can recover a strong economy without sacri-ficing the health and safety of workers.”
Dr. Francis Riedo
Years before the pandemic struck, Dr. Francis Riedo conducted training and prep work with the EvergreenHealth team, positioning it to handle the first wave of coronavirus patients in the United States in late February, including many from Life Care Center in Kirkland. EvergreenHealth, in fact, reported the first coronavirus death in the U.S. Riedo, who is Evergreen’s medical director of infection control and prevention, im-mediately sprang into action, overseeing the conversion of fully one-third of the hospital into a Covid unit.
Megan Rapinoe is aggressively using her international platform to advocate social justice. The two-time World Cup Champion, a star on the U.S. women’s national soccer team who also plays for the National Women’s Soccer League’s OL Reign, has been an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ rights, the Black Lives Matter movement and the #ShareTheMicNow campaign, in which white celebrities gave Black women access to their social media campaigns to broaden their voices. Rapinoe’s Twitter account is littered with statements supporting voting rights, justice for Breonna Taylor and police defunding efforts. Earlier this summer, Rapinoe and her partner, WNBA legend Sue Bird, co-hosted the ESPYs, using their fame to call attention to causes they believe in.
Sue Bird is a legend. Seattle royalty. A consummate champion. She led the Seattle Storm to this year’s WNBA title and has now won four WNBA championships, four Olympic Gold Medals and two NCAA titles. And like her partner, soccer star Megan Rapinoe, she has become an outspoken advocate for social justice. Bird has long lobbied for equal pay for women athletes and has more recently advocated on behalf of LGBTQ rights and the Black Lives Matter movement. She was one of the WNBA’s leading voices in opposition to Atlanta Dream co-owner and U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s public statements criticizing the league’s support of the BLM movement.
Katie Carter has spent the better part of this year taking Pride virtual. The chief executive officer of the Pride Foundation in Seattle oversaw efforts to launch the Crisis Community Care Fund shortly after the pandemic hit to support organizations on the front lines as well as racial justice efforts across the Northwest. The fund had raised more than $800,000 as of last summer and awarded more than half of that in grants. Carter, who became CEO last year, also swiftly pivoted to a virtual events and communications model, and even postponed the foundation’s virtual scholarship celebration last summer because, as Carter wrote on the Pride Foundation’s blog,
“As uprisings against the brutal violence of the police against Black people are happening in cities and towns across the country, this is not the right moment for Pride Founda-tion to host a celebration.”
The founder of one of Washington state’s fastest-growing startups, photographer and makeup artist Laura Hunter is finding suc-cess despite challenges from the pandemic. In 2018, Hunter founded LashLiner LLC, producer of a magnetic eyeliner with microscopic magnetic particles that is applied the same as traditional liquid eyeliner. “Most women would love to wear false eyelashes but cannot because they are incredibly difficult to put on and can be uncomfortable.
The new magnetic sandwich-style lashes aren’t any better. LashLiner has solved these problems,” Hunter says. Hunter has since expanded company offerings to a wide range of cosmetic products. Clients are responding: The Everett-based company is projected to hit $50 million in revenue this year, more than three times what it was in 2019.
Michele Matassa Flores
Michele Matassa Flores, the executive editor of the Seattle Times, was a very public and fierce advocate in defending press freedoms this past summer. Journal-ists from the Times and four local TV stations went to court after a judge ruled that the city’s police department had a right to view their unpublished photos and videos in order to identify protestors. The city eventually dropped its pursuit of the photos. Flores, who was named executive editor last year, also oversees a newsroom that won a 2020 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for its year-long coverage of the crashes of two Boeing 737 MAX airliners that killed 346 people. It was the Times’ 11th Pulitzer Prize.
It’s no secret that arts organizations are struggling and adapting creative ways to engage an audience. Seattle Symphony is no exception, but President and CEO Krishna Thiagarajan has been particularly innovative and active. The symphony has rolled out an extensive weekly streaming concert series called Seattle Symphony Live, has created free, on-demand programming for families and kids, and launched the Seattle Sym-phony Future Fund to keep the symphony solvent during the pandemic. Thiagarajan, who became CEO of the nonprofit organization in 2018, even found a bright light despite the circumstances. “With the season going digital, the Seattle Symphony looks forward to reconnecting with local fans, and through the new streaming service, we’re excited to introduce ourselves to a global audience in a way that has not been possible before,” he says.
Perhaps nobody has been more nimble in adapting to the pandemic than Mark Canlis. The co-owner, along with his brother Brian, of iconic Seattle restaurant Canlis continues to pivot as Covid-19 continues. In the early days of the pandemic, the restaurant offered drive-through options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Lines snaked around the block. That was quickly scrapped in favor of meal delivery and takeout, including cocktail kits to make at home. Last summer, the 70-year-old restaurant opened an outdoor dining space for crab feed dinners and movies. The Canlis family also started a relief fund for unemployed restaurant workers and most recently launched Canlis Community College, a six-week semester of programming featuring food- and wine-centric classes that is also a fundraiser for nonprofit organiza-tion FareStart.
There used to be a saying in journalism: “We’re going to tell you who was at grandma’s house for Sunday chicken dinner.” It was a marketing ploy to tell readers the publication was extremely plugged in to the community. Tracy Record understands. The founder, editor and co-publisher of the West Seattle Blog is the most interesting person at any cocktail party (virtual or not). She can tell you about new businesses in Morgan Junction, development in the North Admiral neighborhood, Alki’s best biking trails and virtually everything else happening in West Seattle. And she puts it all on the blog she and her husband, Pat-rick Sand, launched in 2007. The volume of information on the site is nothing short of impressive at a time when news outlets are drastically cutting back or going out of business; one must wonder if the couple ever sleeps.
Maria Chavez Wilcox
It bothers Maria Chavez Wilcox when people tell her they primarily know the YWCA as an organization that teaches kids how to swim. Since being named chief executive officer of YWCA Seattle King Snohomish in 2016, Chavez Wilcox has brought a renewed focus on diversity and women of color to the organization. The multilingual Chavez Wilcox, the nonprofit’s first Latina chief executive officer, notes that 70% of clients are women and children of color, and that the YWCA is the largest provider of domestic violence services for Black women in King County. Chavez’ organization is the second-larg-est YWCA in the country and provides services to 15,000 women and girls. In September, the YWCA participated in National Voter Registration Day and created the YWCA Voting Center. Chavez also serves on the board of the Women’s Funding Alliance and has been a member of the Downtown Seattle Association, Seattle Rotary and the Association of Fundraising professionals. She has also served as chairperson of Seattle University’s Nonprofit School of Management.
To award-winning chef and restaurateur Edourado Jordan, innovation is trial and error these days. The owner of popular restaurants Salare, JuneBaby and Lucinda admits he has no control over the pandemic and resulting economic slowdown, but has skillfully balanced how he uses his adjacent restaurants (two of them are open for takeout and delivery, while another is used as a warehouse of sorts). He and his team created an online order system on day two of the shutdown and added a retail side to the businesses that didn’t exist before the pandemic.
“People across the country can experi-ence the restaurants from their homes now,” he says. “I have to think of this as an opportunity for us to re-evaluate our protocols and systems and reimplement and re-create.” He says he’s also “pressing the pause button” as he re-evaluates how to build his workforce to more closely re-semble the community it serves. “That’s the change we need to make to be more innovative,” he says.
It’s difficult to teach sculpting or dance via Zoom, but Cornish College of the Arts President Raymond Tymas-Jones had little choice but to pivot to virtual learning last spring. This fall, Tymas-Jones, who has been president of the Seattle school since 2018, led efforts to create a hybrid solution with a mix of virtual and in-person learning. During his tenure, he has reduced tuition and worked diligently to reduce the school’s sizable budget deficit by aggressively seeking new funding sources. He also unveiled a plan to allow any students enrolled this year to take as many free classes as they wish after they’ve matriculated to give them a broader educational experience.
“My goal is to en-sure that Cornish’s faculty, staff and students thrive and excel as artists, innovators and creatives for the express purpose of impact-ing the artistic and cultural communities of Seattle and beyond,” he says.
Michelle Merriweather has been keenly focused on economic empowerment and reducing homelessness in under-served communities since being named chief executive officer of the Urban League of Seattle in 2018. She is a cofounder of the Black Future Co-op Fund, a Seattle Foundation nonprofit organization formed in response to the death of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. The fund is fighting for a more inclusive recovery from Covid-19 and the economic downturn by investing in technical assistance and support to nonprofit organizations that support the Puget Sound region’s Black community. Merriweather also serves on the boards of the Downtown Seattle Association, Alliance for Education, Washington State Women’s Commis-sion and Progress Pushers.