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Uncommon Thinkers: Sam Cho

Director, Strategic Initiatives, Office of the Mayor. Commissioner, Port of Seattle

By Annie Midori Atherton April 5, 2024

A man in glasses and a black suit appears contemplative with his hand on his chin, uncommonly evoking the essence of thinkers.

This post is sponsored.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2024 issue of Seattle magazine.

“Uncommon Thinkers” is a partnership between Greater Seattle Partners and Seattle magazine that showcases Seattle’s innovative and ambitious Korean American community. 

Not many can say they were elected to public office before the age of 30. Fewer can still say that, by the time they did so, they’d founded and sold a business.

Sam Cho is not like most people.

At 33, Cho has built a resume longer than many twice his age. He serves on the Port of Seattle Commission, an honor that holds special significance for Cho, whose family immigrated to the U.S. from South Korea through the Port of Seattle in the 1980s. When he was first elected to the commission in 2019, he took his oath of office in both English and Korean as a tribute to his family.

“Part of what I try to do is really pay it forward and make sure we are creating economic opportunities for the next generation of entrepreneurs,” Cho says, “or immigrants or anyone who’s looking to move up in the world.”

His energy is seemingly boundless: In addition to his work at the Port, he is the director of strategic initiatives in the Office of Seattle Mayor Brice Harrell, where he is helping to revitalize the city’s downtown. He is also a member of Forbes Business Council and the Council on Foreign Relations, an adviser for both the U.S. Intergovernmental Policy Advisory Committee on Human Trafficking.

As Port commissioner, Cho is making good use of his background. The Port of Seattle has a partnership with Greater Seattle Partners on its Export Accelerator program to coach small businesses interested in exporting.

“We have so many great, innovative companies here in the Seattle region that could potentially sell the products abroad,” Cho says.

He is also excited about using tech to enhance Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), which was named the best airport in the U.S. by Skytrax for the past two years, He’s especially proud of the airport’s SEA Spot Saver program, which allows people to reserve a time to go through security.

“Seattleites are very humble,” he says. “But the reality is, we have every major industry here. We’re very diverse. We have a ton of talent. That’s why companies like Google and Facebook and SpaceX have opened offices here. A lot of people are ready for new thinking and new ideas.”

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