Suzan DelBene

Tech entrepreneur and former Microsoft executive heads to Congress

Suzan DelBeneSuzan DelBene (MBA 1990) has been a Microsoft vice president, CEO of a software startup, microfinance consultant, and director of a state agency. Now she is representing Washington state’s First Congressional District in Washington D.C.

DelBene ran for Congress to improve the economy and put the middle class first. According to The Seattle Times, DelBene said, “For me this campaign always has been about standing up for working families and the middle class.” She won the district with 54% of the votes and was sworn into office on November 13, 2012. She is finishing the final weeks of former Congressman Jay Inslee’s term and will start her 2-year term in January.

Prior to being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, she was looking for ways to help businesses as director of the Washington State Department of Revenue. Governor Chris Gregoire appointed DelBene to head the state’s tax collection agency after her first foray into politics as a 2010 candidate for Washington’s Eighth Congressional District. That highly credible effort earned her the endorsement of the Seattle Times, which cited her “tremendous promise” and “sharp business and entrepreneurial skills.”

DelBene freely admits she knew little about tax administration before agreeing to run the agency that collects more than 90 percent of state taxes. But observers say she has been a quick study on the complex intricacies of tax policy.

After DelBene joined the agency, the governor directed her to examine ways it could improve the business climate by streamlining the tax system. DelBene consulted businesses and other stakeholders across the state to determine what the state could do to reduce the burden of complying with multiple state and local tax obligations. The resulting report issued in June 2011 recommended that the state consider assuming administration of local business and occupation taxes, much as it now collects local sales taxes. Gregoire subsequently directed the Department to work with business and local governments to develop a proposal. Such an overhaul of the tax system would require legislative approval.

In the end, cities such as Tacoma and Seattle were resistant to centralizing the collection of B&O taxes at the state level, and as a result the bill was not approved. While DelBene was not able to centralize B&O tax collection, she was able to move business licensing to the Department of Revenue from the Department of Licensing, which helps streamline the process of starting a business.

The Eastside resident started her career in immunology research after graduating from Reed College in Portland. She first became interested in the business side of technology while working at ZymoGenetics in Seattle. That led her to enter the Foster School in 1988. She interned at Microsoft while in school and joined the company after graduation, marketing Windows 95 and other products. She then left Microsoft to help launch drugstore.com in 1998, and in 2000 became CEO of Nimble Technology, a data integration software firm. Along the way, she’s also mentored students at the Foster School.

DelBene returned to Microsoft in 2004 as a corporate vice president for the mobile communications business, and in 2008 became a consultant at Global Partnerships, a microfinance nonprofit.

Now that she is on the government side of things at the national level, DelBene’s business background will come in handy again as she works to solve the economic issues currently facing the United States.