Tom Alberg was my mentor and a role model for the kind of person I want to be. He was insatiably curious, always humble, unfailingly generous, and innately kind. He had a profound impact on my business life and who I am, as he did for so many people in our community.
Tom was incredibly smart, but what added to his intelligence was a deep curiosity about the world, especially new technology. Early in the days of Madrona, I walked into his office and he put down a textbook he was reading. The book was about quantum physics. Tom was a lawyer by education, not a physicist, so I asked him, “Tom, what are you reading?” He said, matter-of-factly, “Oh, I want to understand this.” That was Tom.
Tom loved entrepreneurs and delighted in their successes as much as they did. I think that’s why he was so sought-after and beloved as a venture capitalist and board member. For Tom, it was never about Tom.
I remember in 1999 Tom and I were working closely with a wonderful 20-something founder, Matt Williams, on an exciting new startup called LiveBid. I told Tom that Amazon had finally agreed to acquire Matt’s company and how incredibly excited Matt was about it. I’ll never forget Tom’s expression of pure glee for Matt, “Isn’t that just the greatest thing ever?” he said. That was the moment I understood the magic of Tom.
Tom had a uniquely empowering management style that enabled him to build Madrona and Perkins Coie LLP into regional leaders and national powerhouses. Tom was a tough judge of talent, but when he believed in you he would give you wide latitude to make mistakes (and more mistakes) and hopefully accomplish great things, even as a very young professional.
Tom was always there with wisdom, insights, and judgment, but he also would allow you to push yourself as far as you could go. I have tried to emulate Tom’s style at Pioneer Square Labs and before that at Madrona, although no one could do it as well as Tom. I was only 29 (and very green) when Tom and Paul Goodrich promoted me to be a general partner in Madrona’s first outside venture fund, and Tom had a long history of empowering younger people, giving him incredible leverage and the ability to affect outsized change. Some of the key players in our Seattle tech community all benefited from Tom’s leadership style and willingness to make bets on young people he believed in deeply, such as Jeff Bezos, Matt McIlwain, Julie Sandler, Oren Etzioni, Chris Diorio, Keith Vernon, Geoff Entress, Tim Porter, Scott Jacobson, Eric Best, to name just a few.
For someone so humble, thoughtful, and unassuming, Tom was a giant of a man. I will miss him dearly and hope that Judi, Katherine, John, Carson, Jessica, Robert, and Tom’s extended family know how much so many of us learned from him and loved him.
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