Women who lead with purpose in the Pacific Northwest

This article originally appeared in the Puget Sound Business Journal and is part of an Uncommon Thinkers Welcome sponsored thought leadership program.

By Laura Newpoff – Contributor

Seattle has a strong presence of women in local government and corporate leadership positions, is home to many companies founded by women and boasts strong female representation on local editorial boards. Such qualities distinguished the city as the top place in the country for women to achieve economic opportunity or financial stability during the pandemic.

That’s according to a study commissioned by a global mobile banking platform N26 to gauge the strides women are making in government, research and the corporate world “despite the uphill battles they face.”

Meanwhile, a new study from WalletHub ranks Seattle the No. 6 best city for women in 2023 based on key indicators of living standards related to economic and social well-being and health care and safety.

Three of the city’s top executives recently shared details of their career journeys, thoughts on inclusivity and examples of “uncommon thinkers” who are making a mark in Seattle. They are:

  • Kerri Schroeder, managing director, head of consumer bank for Northwest Region, JPMorgan Chase & Co.
  • Linda Zuckerman, Ph.D., executive vice president, global head of biotherapeutics, Just-Evotec Biologics.
  • Teresa Hutson, corporate vice president, technology and corporate responsibility, Microsoft Corp.

The strategic leader: Kerri Schroeder

As a child, Schroeder found inspiration from her mother, who moved to the U.S. from rural Ireland as a teenager with little formal education. After leaving a difficult marriage, her mom enrolled in cosmetology school to support her three young children. After graduating, she bought a salon and became a business owner.

“I learned from my mom’s experience the importance of having an education, a skill and purpose. That has driven me my entire life,” Schroeder said. “I knew growing up I had to go to college.”

She earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and business administration from Pacific Lutheran University and began her career in 1995 as an assistant relationship manager with U.S. Bank. She now leads a team of middle market banking professionals who deliver financial solutions and strategic guidance to companies in the Pacific Northwest.

“In Seattle, up-and-coming women have the opportunity to see other women who have made an impact in the community,” Schroeder said. “It’s an inclusive economy with representation within every type of business — from old-world manufacturing and logistics to software and technology and everything in between. There are lots of ways for people of different backgrounds to make a mark.”

One unconventional thinker Schroeder knows is Leslie Feinzaig, founder and CEO of Seattle-based Graham & Walker. In five years, she turned a 25-person Facebook group into the largest community of women founders in North America, supporting thousands of founders along the way and launching a venture capital fund to invest in them.

“The mission is to change the landscape of how venture capital is invested in women founders,” Schroeder said. “I’m inspired by that work.”

The life sciences executive: Linda Zuckerman, Ph.D.

As a high schooler, the only subject that interested Zuckerman was science. In college, while her classmates spent time studying abroad, she spent a semester at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, where some of the nation’s top scientists develop solutions to the world’s biggest problems. That motivated her to pursue a career in science.

“I realized how immunology is central to fighting disease,” Zuckerman said. “Being an immunologist is the critical element to almost everything from a patient health perspective.”

Zuckerman earned a B.S. in biochemistry from Beloit College in Wisconsin and a Ph.D. in immunology from the University of Chicago. She began her career as a scientist at Genentech in 2000. Today, she oversees and brings executive-level accountability for Just-Evotec Biologics, a technology-focused partner for biologics development and manufacturing. Unique to the contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) space, the company is affecting a paradigm shift in biomanufacturing with over 400 employees in Washington state, according to Zuckerman.

“When I started my professional career in Seattle and wanted to get into leadership, I cold-called other women vice presidents in the city to seek out their advice,” Zuckerman said. “I was at the director level and they all took my call and gave me their time, which shows how inclusive the Seattle community is in terms of women supporting other women.”

Zuckerman is impressed women make up 45% of Washington’s life science industry, one of the highest concentrations of women in a STEM-based industry. That includes Christina Yi, an experienced leader in the delivery of transformative medicines, who is the newly named chief technology officer at Alpine Immune Sciences Inc.

“Christina is a driving force in building and scaling loyal teams in this industry,” Zuckerman said. “She’s another example that we are in a community where you can develop and grow as a woman leader in the life sciences space.”

The social impact champion: Teresa Hutson

Hutson originally wanted to be a high school teacher and graduated from Syracuse University with degrees in English and textual studies and education. After student teaching, she switched gears and received a law degree from Cornell Law School.

She started her career as a corporate transactions lawyer in Silicon Valley during the tech boom of the early 2000s and got laid off when the dot-com bubble collapsed shortly thereafter.

“I decided to rebrand myself as an employment lawyer,” Hutson said. “I worked with a variety of companies handling suits ranging from wrongful termination to disability accommodation.”

In 2008, Hutson and her husband, a University of Washington graduate, moved to Seattle. She joined Microsoft as an attorney in its employment and benefits group and has advanced up the corporate ladder. Today, she leads a cross-functional team focused on using Microsoft’s voice, partnerships and technology to protect and advance fundamental rights.

“Companies in Seattle are inclusive because they consistently create great opportunities for women to advance their careers,” Hutson said. “This also is a community where women support and are supported by each other, are able to learn from each other and have opportunities to work at companies that value women and give them a chance to lead.”

This includes the women in leadership who came together during the pandemic to set up a public community vaccination site on the Microsoft campus. That included hospital systems, county health officials and leadership from the local sports commission.

It also included Jen Berg, director of government affairs and public policy at Starbucks, who led a team that provided expertise in human-centered design, workflow optimization and operational efficiency to help the site run productively and equitably for all communities. Women such as Rachel Smith at the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, Sharmila Swenson at Symetra, Ann Steines at Nordstrom and Rachel McCall at Weyerhaeuser also participated.

“It’s a reflection of the way Seattle tackles problems,” Hutson said. “Different leaders with different areas of expertise banded together to do what we do best — solve a problem for the community in pragmatic partnership.”

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