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Tom Alberg, who guided Amazon and helped shape modern Seattle into a high-tech hub, dies at 82

Aug. 6, 2022 Updated Sun., Aug. 7, 2022 at 8:55 p.m.

By Dominic Gates Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Tom Alberg, a business leader with a vision for innovation in the tech world, who backed Amazon with one of its first investment checks at its inception and helped shape numerous companies and civic organizations in Seattle, died Friday at 82.

He had suffered a stroke about a year ago.

Alberg was a co-founder of Madrona Venture Group, which has invested in Pacific Northwest technology startups for 27 years.

Best known for his early investment in Amazon, he served on the company’s board for 23 years and helped guide it through the years when it lost large amounts of money before it evolved into the powerhouse of e-commerce profit that now dominates retail in the U.S. and beyond.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos tweeted that Alberg was “a visionary and also just a wonderful, good man. I was so lucky to have you in my life, Tom.”

Bezos’ successor as CEO of Amazon, Andy Jassy, tweeted that although Alberg’s “professional & civic accomplishments were many,” what most impressed him “was his character – humble, high integrity, missionary, cared about his community – as good a guy as they come.”

Before Amazon transformed retail, Alberg’s focus on technology clients helped grow Perkins Coie into the Northwest’s largest law firm, where he was lead outside counsel to Boeing and Alaska Airlines. And he took an executive role in McCaw Cellular, which later became AT&T Wireless.

He helped jump-start the growth of the University of Washington Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering.

And he joined CEOs of major Seattle companies and former Gov. Chris Gregoire to start Challenge Seattle – a hub for business and community leaders to focus on civic issues that affect the region.

He was one of the principals who developed the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Seattle.

He also transformed his family’s farm in Carnation into the nonprofit Oxbow Farm & Conservation Center, which researches and practices sustainable farming methods. And he co-founded Novelty Hill and Januik wineries in Woodinville.

News of his death spurred sympathy messages Saturday from business leaders around the region, including from Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft.

Nadella said of Alberg: “Through his work, vision, and humanity, he had a profound impact on both our industry and community.”

The grandson of a Swedish immigrant, Alberg grew up in Ballard and attended Ballard High School. He worked on the family farm known as the Oxbow property that he later built into the nonprofit.

He earned an undergraduate degree at Harvard and a law degree from Columbia Law School, where he was an editor of the Columbia Law Review.

He worked as an attorney at Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York City before returning to Seattle and joining Perkins Coie.

Among the companies Alberg backed and guided at Madrona are Redfin of Seattle, a tech-based real estate company; Apptio of Bellevue, which develops business management software; and Impinj of Seattle, which makes radio-frequency identification devices and software.

Alberg is survived by his second wife, Judi Beck; five children: Robert, Katherine Anderson, John, Carson and Jessica; and four grandchildren.

The family requests that remembrances be made in the form of contributions to the Oxbow Farm & Conservation Center.

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