Native Son

Doug Seto brings Seattle roots to his role as WAC Chairman

By Darrick Meneken, Managing Editor  |  Photos by Dave Estep

They say Seattle is the country’s biggest small town. Walking with new WAC Chairman Doug Seto, you begin to understand why. In between a Rotary meeting that lets out at the Westin and the WAC Clubhouse, a half-dozen people wave or say hello. Doug knows them all. Not in the perfunctory “long time no see” kind of way. No, each time Doug says hi to someone you feel as if he were the best man at their wedding.

It’s in the eyes. Doug’s eyes are almost always smiling. If you were in a hurricane with Doug, you’d probably look over, see his face, and think the sun were about to come out.

WAC members will see that face a whole lot more during the next year. Doug’s term as the 75th Chairman of the WAC Board of Governors began August 1. “One thing is, I’d like to see the Club grow,” Doug said during a recent interview in Torchy’s. “The second thing is, I’m kind of a numbers guy, so I’d like to make sure that we’re doing well from a fiscal standpoint.”

Doug inherits strong membership trends and a solid fiscal picture. But there’s always room to improve. Doug sees the opportunity clearly. “Growth and finances will come if we have a vibrant, active membership that’s excited about coming down here,” he says. “Those are the things I’d like to walk away with at the end of my term.”

All this he says with a smile, of course. As we’ll soon come to learn, our new Chairman knows how to have fun.

Hometown roots

More than any WAC Chairman in recent history, Doug Seto is a Seattleite. He was born on First Hill; attended elementary and middle school in Bryant; graduated Roosevelt High School, where he played the oboe; and earned an economics degree from the University of Washington, where he still holds football season tickets.

Doug’s mom also graduated from Roosevelt and UW. Doug’s dad, likewise a Husky, was born in Tacoma. Though Doug is an only child, his extended family includes 18 first cousins.

Growing up, Doug rose through the ranks of Boy Scouts and eventually became an Eagle Scout, a distinction achieved by only 5 percent of Scouts. In other words, Doug sees things through. “Boy Scouts taught me how to work with people and build leadership skills and relationships,” Doug says. “Those skills are still of great value to me today.”

He sits on the Scouts’ Chief Seattle Council board and traces his WAC connections to the organization, as well. Doug’s Cub Scout leader, Don Covey, served as WAC Chairman in 1981. Another Boy Scout connection, Byron Richards, vouched for Doug when he joined the WAC in 1980. “That goes all the way back to Cub Pack 144 and Troop 148,” Doug says, reciting his old scout allegiances by heart.

Doug lived on Capitol Hill from 1985 until 2008 before moving to Bellevue. He visits the WAC three to four times a week for meetings and to work out, including in Helene Madison Pool. He also entertains in Torchy’s and Hagerty’s and brings a group of friends to Jubilee every year.

The Seto family’s Seattle story began when Doug’s grandparents on both sides immigrated to the United States from Japan in the early 1900s. Four decades later, to avoid internment during World War II, his mother’s family moved to Spokane and later Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. “They were lucky,” Doug says. His father’s parents, however, were not.

In May of 1942, Kiyo and Toraichi Seto and family were forced from their Tacoma home and loaded on a train. They were incarcerated in Pinedale, California, along with thousands of other Japanese Americans and later at Tule Lake, a desolate expanse of dirt, barracks, and barbed wire near the California-Oregon border.

While Doug’s grandparents sat in an internment camp, Doug’s father, Matthew, served in a U.S. Army intelligence unit. For many Japanese-American families, this dichotomy—children serving in the U.S. military while their parents remained imprisoned for their ancestry—grew all too familiar. “When I was a child nothing was said about it,” Doug recalls.

A career of leadership

After V-J Day, Doug’s grandparents returned to their Tacoma home and continued their role as community leaders, including at Whitney Memorial United Methodist Church, which Toraichi helped found before the war. Matthew Seto left the service and went into finance. Eventually, Doug would follow closely in his father’s footsteps, bringing economic and financial expertise to a diverse set of companies.

“What I bring has always been that strategic planning and positioning the company for growth,” Doug says. “You can take that and apply that to any industry.”

Doug’s work has taken him from a paper pulp company to selling street sweepers. Along the way, he’s joined ownership groups and served as executive director of the Lake Washington Schools Foundation.

“The WAC is fortunate to have wonderful representatives of the community and of the Club continually step forward to take on the Chairmanship of the Board of Governors,” WAC President & CEO Chuck Nelson says. “Doug Seto is quintessentially Seattle, has significant experience here at the WAC, and is a strong and knowledgeable advocate of the WAC. We are excited to work with Doug in this leadership role.”

During his time at the schools foundation, Doug increased fundraising and helped deliver S.T.E.M. education to high school and middle school students. “That was a good accomplishment,”
he says.

Doug’s interest in giving back to the community remains. In addition to serving on the Boy Scouts’ board, he is an emeritus board member at the Northwest Kidney Centers, where more than 15 years ago he and his father established a research endowment in honor of Doug’s mom, Kiyoko, who died of kidney failure.

Doug’s passion for kidney research shows during a recent visit to the Kidney Research Institute, a collaboration between Northwest Kidney Centers and UW Medicine, where he engages director Dr. Jonathan Himmelfarb in a detailed conversation about the latest science and the future of kidney disease management. To the casual observer, it’s all quite technical.

“Without the Northwest Kidney Centers, the Kidney Research Institute wouldn’t exist,” Dr. Himmelfarb says. “The partnership has been fantastic on all fronts and has really helped us catalyze research dedicated to impacting the lives of those living with kidney disease.”

Between generations

We’ve been shadowing Doug for a couple of days, and the realms in which he operates are clearly diverse. “I kind of have different worlds I am in all the time,” he says. His friends include millennials, baby boomers, and those of his

father’s generation. “I’m able to comfortably be in all of those different settings,” he says. “People think that’s different about me.”

Consider a night this past June when Doug attended the Sorensen & Scholz collegiate rugby awards dinner at the WAC and then hit up a birthday party at Q. “That’s a dance club up on Capitol Hill,” he clarifies.

Then again, you could just as easily meet Doug at a warehouse in Kent. This is the home of NiteHawk Sweepers. “They’re noted for being quiet, energy-efficient, and eco-friendly,” Doug says.

As NiteHawk’s Director of International Dealer Development and Sales, Doug travels widely—from Dallas to Dubai. While on the road, he often visits Rotary clubs. “Rotary has been a very constant, consistent thing for me,” he says. “Maybe I’m nuts or something, but I have 100 percent attendance since I joined.” That was in 1992.

Whether slipping into a nightclub or commenting on street sweeper chassis options, Doug seems ever comfortable. Cruising from his Bellevue home to work and the WAC, he might turn on Bach, Handel or Vivaldi. But don’t be surprised if he dials up some electronic dance music instead. He was a longtime season-ticket holder to the Seattle Symphony, but he’s also attended the Gorge’s Paradiso Festival, an event recently promoted with psychedelic hot air balloons.

Enigma? Not really. Just a man of diverse tastes.

“There’s a lot of emerging trends occurring right now,” Doug says. “I think that’s one of the things that I can bring to the Club—a perspective of being able to connect with the different generations and also being able to understand them because I’m directly involved with them.”

As our time comes to an end, Doug is still smiling. “The WAC has an interesting challenge,” he says. “There’s a lot of tradition, values and culture here, and we want to make sure that we maintain those. At the same time you want to make sure that you’re aware of changes in the way people dine, socialize, work, and play. People are different today.”

As published in the September/October issue of WAC Magazine

—Posted August 30, 2017

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