Lisa Brummel, one of three Seattle women who own the Storm, is the chief hoops addict of the ownership group.
Lisa Brummel is always moving.
She dresses for comfort and mobility, wearing tennis shoes and shorts almost every day, even in winter. She walks 10,000 steps daily, keeping track on a Fitbit pedometer. Late one night last month, she realized she was 300 shy and marched inside the house until she hit her mark.
This is a way she can ensure exercise in her runaway schedule. As the chief people officer at Microsoft and the chief hoops addict of the Seattle Storm ownership group, Brummel stays busier than a world leader.
She’s agile in movement and thought. She possesses a rare ability to handle constant transition and adapt to any situation, and while overseeing Microsoft’s human resources department and serving as part owner of the Storm, those skills are utilized just as much as the pedometer.
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“The woman works about 80 hours a week,” said Celeste Keaton, who has been Brummel’s partner for 24 years. “She never has a slow day.”
Brummel, 52, wouldn’t know how to handle inactivity. She has been juggling since she was a young girl. Back then, her passion for sports consumed much of her time. Brummel was a breed of athlete that is virtually extinct in today’s era of specialization. She participated in basketball, field hockey, track, softball and volleyball. And she excelled at all of them. She didn’t play organized sports until 10th grade, but she was the ultimate quick study.
Calling Brummel a natural would be an understatement. She’s a savant. She’s like a musician who can listen to a song once and play it without looking at the notes.
She often learns by observation. She admires the authoritative tone of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s voice, so Brummel studied her speaking style and now incorporates it during her own public-speaking engagements. It complements Brummel’s innate ability to connect with a crowd.
There are hundreds of examples like this in Brummel’s life, including learning how to garden from Keaton. She’s such a sponge because, as a little girl growing up in Connecticut in the 1960s, she was often forced to watch the boys play organized games. She could school them all on the playground, but young girls didn’t have much opportunity to play the organized sports she liked.
But Brummel didn’t sulk. She just observed. She attended the boys’ youth league events, and she analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of each player and team from her neighborhood. She knew so much she could’ve produced a local version of her favorite show, “ABC’s Wide World of Sports.”
“I’m better off learning in context than I am in having somebody try to teach me something in isolation,” Brummel said with a shrug.
The one time she received formal coaching at an early age? She joined the YMCA swim team in the fourth grade. Her best friend’s family, which included six girls, loved swimming. Brummel would attend her practice and all of theirs, too, spending three or four hours in the pool three times a week.
“And I was horrible,” Brummel said. “They didn’t even put me in the official races. They put me in the unofficial races, and I came in last. So, counter to all the other success, I started out as an utter failure as a swimmer.”
She can laugh at herself, but look at her remarkable résumé: She went to Yale, and if that degree isn’t impressive enough alone, she competed in basketball, softball, volleyball and track there. She is in the Ivy League women’s Hall of Fame for softball. She made the All-Ivy basketball and softball teams. In high school, she won Connecticut state track titles in the javelin, shot put and discus.
Basketball is Brummel’s clear love, though. During the fall and winter, she watches as many games as possible. She attends local youth, high school and college games. She can watch just about any game she wants with her Xbox Gold subscription.
And typical Brummel, she still finds time for her two adult daughters, Jennifer Keaton Miller and Brea Collier. Her girls were the inspiration for her tradition of hosting epic Sunday dinners in which she prepares feasts for up to 20, inviting anyone who wants to come that day. She and Keaton are also famous for opening their Woodinville garden to area kids and holding a contest to see who grew the biggest pumpkin during a fall harvest party they host.
“Those are memories my children and husband will never forget,” said Lauren Gardner, the general manager of human resources for Microsoft North America.
Gardner has known “Brum,” as friends call her, for 15 years. Brum has “zero poker face,” Gardner says. You can’t talk about her without referring to her classic mannerism: arms folded, eyes scrutinizing, brain working overtime.
Said Keaton: “From a business point of view, she’s so valuable because she can see all the different sides of a problem, but she also has a laserlike focus to lock in on any situation or problem. One of her greatest talents is the ability to bring people together. She’s able to cut through things and help people reach compromises and conclusions.”
Brummel’s direct style benefits the Storm. She focuses mostly on being the conduit between the ownership group and coach Brian Agler and the basketball operations staff. She is unafraid to express an opinion, and she fears scrutiny even less. It helps her solve complicated problems.
As a Microsoft senior executive, Brummel accepts that criticism for tough decisions is inevitable.
“I’m used to having my decisions talked about and scrutinized, and people having an opinion,” Brummel said. “It comes with the territory. It’s not a surprise to me at all.”
Brummel is agile, even when competition tries to poach Microsoft employees with Top Pot doughnuts.
One day, Brummel found out that a rival company’s recruiters were standing at the Overlake Transit Center, near Microsoft, offering doughnuts and conversing with employees. So she walked over to investigate. With a smile on her face, Brummel asked questions about things such as the advantage of that company over Microsoft. She stood calmly, listened and had a pleasant conversation. At the end of it, a recruiter asked who she was. Brummel introduced herself and walked away with her doughnut.
Oh, to be a fly on her pedometer then.
“It’s such a rich world that she lives in, as far as quality of life,” said Cindy Broetje, the human resources general manager at Microsoft. “Lisa seems to have an endless capacity to keep adding things to her life.”
She’s agile, in business, in sports ownership — and in solving doughnut dilemmas.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org.