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Originally published September 2, 2012 at 2:34 PM | Page modified September 3, 2012 at 4:02 PM

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Daudon leads Seattle chamber in some new directions

Maud Daudon's background and her congenial style have earned respect from across the political spectrum.

Seattle Times business reporter

Maud Daudon

Title: President and CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce

Age: 56

Previous jobs: President of Seattle-Northwest Securities, deputy mayor of Seattle, chief financial office of Port of Seattle

Recent work: Advisory Committee on Tolling and Traffic, Higher Education Funding Taskforce, Washington Aeropspace Partnership; special adviser to Arena Review Panel

Family: Husband, Marc; two adult children

Source: Seattle Chamber of Commerce, Public Disclosure Commission

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She is one of Seattle's most influential people, but many have never heard of her.

In June, Maud Daudon was named the president of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, another leadership post in a career that includes stints in the mayor's office, at the Port of Seattle, and as president of a Northwest investment bank.

Now, some even suggest she should run for mayor.

That's because this frank 56-year-old holds sway with both environmentalists and business people, and her congenial style has earned her respect from individuals across the political spectrum.

"I've always been impressed with her pragmatism," said Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata.

Many of Daudon's colleagues at the chamber of commerce say her ability to work constructively with people from a variety of policy positions is one of the reasons she ascended to the top spot of this organization, which describes itself as "one of the most environmentally progressive business associations on the West Coast."

Seattle City Councilmember Mike O'Brien said that putting those kinds of statements into policy is now "one of the challenges that the chamber faces." But he is pleased with Daudon as president: "I can't imagine working with a better chamber."

Daudon's own language reflects public-advocacy roots that trace back to her parents' volunteer work in the Chicago area.

"You can have economic prosperity, you can have a great environment, and you can also make sure you're not leaving any folks behind," she said, citing her often repeated "triple bottom line."

She has brought that kind of language to the chamber, said several of its members, and, so far, this historically center-right crowd has supported her.

"She's the first chamber leader maybe in the country that's in the middle, maybe left," said David Allen, a chamber board member and executive vice president of the construction and design company McKinstry. He indicated that in the past the chamber focused primarily on issues that directly benefited the business community. "I think she's helped drive that change."

While Daudon's philosophy is seemingly progressive, Peter Steinbrueck, a former Seattle City Council member and an advocate for left-leaning initiatives in the city, said, "I don't know if that portends a more liberal direction" for the chamber of commerce itself.

Steinbrueck has known Daudon and her husband since the 1980s and, like many she has worked with, speaks highly of her. "I think her professionalism is the highest," he said.

Community activism

A native of Lake Forest, Ill., with two grown kids, Daudon comes from a family engaged in community activism. It was her parents who helped shape her into the plugged-in presence she is today.

"My father was a lawyer in Chicago, but he spent tons of time with United Way, and with the Chicago Rehabilitation Institute," she said. "My mother was very active with Planned Parenthood on the board, and she actually ran Planned Parenthood of Chicago for a period of time."

Daudon's husband, Marc, founded an environmental firm, Cascadia Consulting Group.

Daudon's path to the helm of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce went through the investment bank Lehman Brothers. After she completed a master's in management from Yale University, colleagues encouraged her to find work at a financial institution. Daudon, however, was hesitant.

"I was like, 'Investment banks are evil,' " she said.

Eventually Daudon scheduled an interview. She realized that in Lehman's public-finance sector, at least, she meshed well, and joined the company in 1983. In 1986, she found her way to that bank's Seattle office.

While there, she worked closely with the Port. "I ended up calling on the Port of Seattle a bunch, and so I joined the Port and became their CFO," she said.

As that authority's finance expert, Daudon worked with Commissioner Paul Schell. She impressed the future Seattle mayor -- even when they sometimes clashed on issues.

In 1998, Schell, then the new mayor, offered Daudon a job as deputy mayor. Schell's single term was tumultuous, however, and after he lost his bid for re-election, Daudon returned to the investment-banking sector with Seattle-Northwest Securities.

One side of the company's business is advising government agencies on big capital projects. She and the firm did this for the Seattle Monorail Project, which fizzled in 2005 after the price tag for paying off the bonds ballooned. Daudon said it was a result of a miscommunication between transit authorities about the amount of taxes that would be collected: "The revenue projections were significantly off," she said.

After that challenging experience, Daudon ascended to the firm's top spot in 2007. There she dissolved the company's proprietary-trading operations because she was uncomfortable with the level of debt it had taken on.

"I'm somebody that likes to sleep well at night, and I really felt like it was too much leverage for our size." Daudon said

The following year, the financial crisis struck. David Taylor, the bank's chairman, says that debt would have sunk the company when the storm hit, as it did many other financial institutions at the time.

"It would have taken down the firm," Taylor said.

Infrastructure projects

Daudon is now leading a chamber that is advocating for big infrastructure projects, like a waterfront park where the doomed Alaskan Way Viaduct sits, and replacing the seawall below the viaduct.

She has been analyzing the numbers of the waterfront park, currently estimated at $420 million, since her previous job at Seattle-Northwest Securities, and argues that green spaces are needed around densely populated urban cores.

The chamber is using its network of partners from the successful advocacy for the Alaskan Way tunnel to push these initiatives.

"We still have that same coalition of people working hard," Daudon said.

When asked about the level of debt Seattle might incur if these projects are constructed along with a proposed NBA arena, Daudon says that although the city should be cautious, its credit rating is good.

"We're really well positioned now," she said.

"Intriguing" candidate

David Brewster, founder of the website Crosscut, wrote a column last year arguing that she would be an "intriguing" candidate for mayor. Schell has also heard her name suggested as a possible candidate to fill the position he occupied from 1998 to early 2002.

"If she does run for mayor it will be because she wants to do something, not because she wants to be somebody," Schell said. He wonders, however, whether she would tolerate the political side of city leadership.

The question is "whether she can stomach the politics," Schell said. "I don't think she'll be a natural politician, but she'll be a natural leader."

Daudon insists, however, that her post at the chamber of commerce, with its 25th-floor Elliott Bay office view, suits her desire to carry out the triple bottom line.

Is she interested in joining the lineup of expected challengers to Mayor Mike McGinn in 2013?

"I feel like right now I'm fully committed here and I'm excited about it," she said. "I'm basically happy as a clam."

Karl Baker: 206-464-2046 or kbaker2@seattletimes.com

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