Connie Blumenthal

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Flynn's Harp: A business organization focused on 'public' policy that transcends partisan politics'

David Giuliani, the Seattle-area entrepreneur who launched two companies that became new-innovation success stories, has co-founded a statewide business organization named Washington Business Alliance that he hopes can help bring a new innovation to the way government makes decisions.

It might be said that Giuliani, who launched and built Optiva and Clarisonic into hugely successful companies that revolutionized teeth cleaning and skin cleansing, has set his sights on building a business organization that would cleanse government of the need for ideology in its decision-making.

Basically, his Washington Business Alliance is focused on bringing "a reasoned, collaborative approach to public policy that transcends partisan politics."

Optiva, of course, was the maker of SoniCare, the first electronic toothbrush. After Giuliani guided Optiva into the hands of Philips Electronics, he created Pacific Bioscience Laboratories and produced the first electronic skin-cleansing device, Clarisonic, and sold it last fall to cosmetics giant L'Oréal USA.

Giuliani stayed on as Clarisonic CEO, though he made clear in an interview that he will be stepping down from that role this fall to devote full-time attention to the task of chairing Washington Business Alliance, which he co-founded last year with Howard Behar.

Behar's credentials are about as impressive as Giuliani's. He spent the last 21 years with Starbucks, which included serving as President of North America and as founding president of Starbucks International.

Giuliani says the organization, which is seeking business members rather than individuals and has a dues structure ranging from $500 to $15,000 per year, is "committed to developing effective solutions that are not constrained by political expediency or ideology, with an emphasis on data-based solutions for long-term results."

That phrase, "not constrained by political expediency or ideology," is a stop-and-reread phrase because what has struck me about the organization, and the leadership composed of successful entrepreneurs, is that it is truly seeking to look past the political to arrive at solutions in a process beyond the ideological spectrum.

It seems to me that for business people who wish to depart from the process of having to first vet ideas by placing them on the ideological spectrum before we can discuss them, that focus alone merits a conversation and moves the organization's goal from the Quixotic to the possible.

And Giuliani and Behar have attracted other business leaders to their leadership ranks, including Norm Levy, who has served as corporate strategy counsel for almost three decades to companies like Starbucks, Boeing and John Fluke Manufacturing, and long-time Boeing executive Debbie Gavin. With a background as financial vice president of several Boeing units, Gavin will be the association's treasurer.

The idea isn't for business to disengage from government, but to engage differently," says Roz Solomon, who was plucked from the legal consulting business with a background that includes having been an administrative law judge for Washington State, to be executive director of the organization.

 "Our goal is to ferret out those things that government is doing well and reinforce them," Solomon adds. "There are a lot of parts of government that are intractable, but there are also a lot that aren't."

Giuliani, 66, who was Ernst & Young's manufacturing Entrepreneur of the Year nationally in 1997, explains "we're focusing on a non-political methodology, seeking to attract business people who realize that solutions to problems don't necessarily happen through political means."

I asked Giuliani and Solomon during an interview whether seeking members for a non-political organization at a time of the political intensity of an election year was really a good decision.

"It's important to use the political cycle as an opportunity," Giuliani replied. "There are a lot of people who are writing checks for candidates and asking themselves 'should I really be writing this check? Then why is it so dissatisfying?'"

"The election process tends to intensify the frustration people feel about politics, causing many to wonder - what can I do to fix it?" Giuliani added. "There are likely to be a lot opportunities for post-election messaging for Washington Business Alliance that will resonate with the voters."

And while the focus of the new organization is the state races for now, Giuliani notes that there's what he describes as "a national movement to create this type of organization in other states," which in the future could lead to initiatives relating to influence on decision making at the national level.

Giuliani says his group has already had a lot of interaction with the Oregon Business Association, a group, similar in focus that has been in existence for several years.

"There are a lot of people dissatisfied with what they view as a dysfunctional, polarized system," Solomon added. "It's people left with those sorts of questions about politics that we want to engage for the future."

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Mike Flynn is retired publisher of Puget Sound Business Journal who now has a consulting firm, Mike Flynn & Associates LLC, and writes a weekly column called Flynn’s Harp. Contact him atMike@emikeflynn.com if you would like to be added to the list of those receiving it via email, or to see previous Flynn’s Harp columns, go to emikeflynn.com and click on blogs

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