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Meet John Stanton, the Mariners’ wireless pioneer. He brings passion and leadership to his team of Seattle Mariners

John Stanton, Mariners’ owner speaks at GeekWire Startup Day 2015. (GeekWire File Photo / Kevin Lisota)

John Stanton, a great leader in teams over the past four decades.

He was a respected tech leader who helped transform the mobile sector by holding executive positions at McCaw Mobile and VoiceStream Wireless. VoiceStream Wireless is the precursor to today’s T-Mobile. Trilogy Venture Capital, an established venture capital firm in Seattle’s area, was his co-founding. The Microsoft and Costco board member even coached youth baseball — six years each for his two sons.

Long-time acquaintances and friends will be pleased to hear that the Seattle Mariners are enjoying a much-anticipated postseason run under Stanton.

Stanton, now 67, was appointed chairman and CEO in 2016. Stanton, 67, was elected chairman and CEO of the team in 2016.

Last year, however, the Mariners almost reached the postseason. The Mariners also broke the longest current playoff drought in sport in 2022. This was a huge win for the city, and earned respect from across the nation.

On Saturday, the M’s will host their first playoff game in 21 years at T-Mobile Park.

Seattle is buzzing with baseball.

“It’s really John’s leadership that made this possible,” said Jeff Raikes, a former Microsoft exec and minority owner of the team.

Humans and structures

Stanton is an avid Seattle resident, and Mariners fan. He prefers to be hands-off as a sports franchise owner. Stanton leaves most of his day-to-day decisions to baseball professionals and the front office.

But behind the scenes, he’s helped set a cultural foundation. Stanton starts every ownership group meeting with a slide that states the team’s mission: We’re dedicated to winning championships, creating unforgettable experiences for our fans, and serving our communities.

“Every day, I try to think in terms of our mission,” Stanton told GeekWire, speaking from T-Mobile Park on Friday.

Stanton made important personnel decisions. He’s remained committed to general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais, keeping the pair together even through losing seasons and public criticism. The continuity is seen by some as a crucial part of the team’s success.

“You’ve got to stand behind your people,” Stanton said. “And they need to know that you’re standing behind them.”

It’s a leadership philosophy rooted in other Stanton-led teams.

“He invests in the people around him,” said Amy Nam McCullough, partner at Trilogy. “He empowers them with the ability to make decisions and make mistakes and take the wins.”

Hope Cochran, a managing director at Madrona Venture Group who worked with Stanton at Clearwire, said he has “a fabulous combination of strong discernment and leadership full of integrity, combined with ensuring that he’s using the best talents on his team.”

Stanton brings business acumen to the Mariners. Stanton implemented a new management structure last year that separated baseball operations from the front office. The team hired Catie Griggs, its first-ever female president described as “an amazing talent” by Raikes, who led the hiring search committee.

“When leaders can recognize, attract, and retain great talent, and then put them in a structure where they can be at their best — that’s generally when good things happen,” said Raikes, former CEO of the Gates Foundation. “And John has done that throughout his career.”

Passionate about the job and for the game

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Stanton has been described as both a great listener and long-term thinker by many. He is also a constant curiosity seeker.

“When you talk with him, he is very directly engaged in what is on your mind and what’s critical to you,” said Peter van Oppen, a partner at Trilogy and longtime friend of Stanton. “You never have a sense that he’s looking past you to a more important problem.”

Stanton is also passionate about his work. He’s often seen sitting behind home plate during games keeping score with pen and paper. “I think he finds work really fun,” said Cochran.

A graduate of Newport High School in Bellevue and Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., Stanton is an active philanthropist along with his wife, Terry Gillespie, also a wireless industry leader. He’s chairman at Year Up of Puget Sound, a nonprofit that provides career training for young adults, and has chaired or co-chaired the Business Partnership for Early Learning and the United Way of King County campaign.

Stanton is “often the quiet force behind great things being done,” said Bob Ratliffe, a former colleague at McCaw Cellular.

Other leaders from Major League Baseball took notice. Commissioner Rob Manfred recently appointed Stanton to lead the league’s competition committee that makes decisions on rule changes. “It’s a great example of his leadership,” Raikes said.

Beyond baseball, the Mariners’ business side is prioritizing revenue increases. The team’s community impact arm launched a new fellowship program and put $3 million toward an eviction prevention initiative.

Asked if this was the most fun job he’s ever had, Stanton responded quickly: “Absolutely.”

Recent long-term contracts were signed by the Mariners with their ace pitcher, and its rookie phenom. It boasts reliable pitching and an impressive defense. Stanton, and perhaps his home town of St. Louis might find it even more rewarding in the future.

“We’ve ended up with a great core team that we’re committed to for a number of years,” Stanton said, “and I believe will bring a championship to Seattle.”

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