By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
- Despite these tough economic times, Albert Shen maintains a positive attitude. His businesses are doing well, but it’s what he does during his off-hours that really stands out.
For him, social entrepreneurship is about using his professional know-how and skills to help various nonprofit organizations and academic institutions reach their goals.
Born in New Haven, Conn., Shen, 44, is the owner of Shen Consulting, Inc., a small, Washington state-certified Minority Business Enterprise based in Seattle that specializes in the delivery of large infrastructure projects.
In 2009, his company received a City of Seattle Mayor’s Small Business Award.
Shen is also a managing partner of SATin Group, a consulting firm that specializes in attracting Asian investment capital to Washington state.
He admitted, “It’s a little challenging to try and do two businesses at once and all the other community stuff I do.”
To pursue his doctorate, his father, who is from the Manchurian area of China, moved the family to Pullman, Wash., in 1968. His mother, from Shang Dong Province in China, started her own gift shop there and later, a restaurant.
In addition to Shen’s 12 years of public education, he attended a Chinese school taught by graduate students and learned how to read, write, and speak Mandarin.
After graduating from Pullman High School in 1985, Shen told himself, “Okay, time for the big city.”
He traveled across the state to attend the University of Washington. It was there that he studied chemistry and environmental science. In 1991, he graduated with degrees in both subjects.
Shen said a career in environmental policy was the direction he was headed toward and landed his first job in an environmental consulting firm. For the next five years, he dealt with such issues as nuclear waste and hazardous waste from around the region.
In the late 1990s, he found himself at a major crossroad in his professional career.
“The company was all very supportive, but there was clearly a bamboo ceiling,” he admitted. There was also a recession at that time. “It was after that that I realized this wasn’t where I wanted to be.”
Shen left that company and took the next nine months off, a period he calls his “part-time retirement.”
“It was probably the best nine months I’ve ever had because you don’t have to do anything. You just get up. You read the paper. You just exercise.”
The corporate world’s loss suddenly became the Asian American community’s gain.
Shen found a part-time job running the Seattle Asian American Film Festival, which was held, at that time, at the Seattle Art Museum.
“We had guests back then like Sandra Oh (current star of ABC’s television drama ‘Grey’s Anatomy’),” he said. “It’s good to see where she is right now. It’s a good thing to see that we helped her in some little way.”
Three months later, one of Shen’s friends asked if he was available to help in the management of a project in West Seattle. That 1997 project, the Port of Seattle Marine Terminal Expansion Improvements, turned out to be the $200 million construction of a container yard known as Terminal Five.
“I had absolutely no experience in this space, but I had worked enough in the consulting world. I think the one thing that definitely helped [win the contract] is my technical training in chemistry and the basics like math,” he said.
In 1998, he was involved in larger projects like Sea-Tac International Airport’s 10-year, $4 billion Capital Improvement Program. “It was good to grow my business with what they were doing, so that’s really what defines my company now,” he said. “We’re also on the new Seattle Waterfront Redevelopment Program.”
Shen began his community service by joining the board of directors of Northwest Asian American Theatre in 1999.
He started Shen Consulting, Inc. one year later.
Many organizations and individuals acknowledge his business acumen and have asked for his participation in their favorite charities.
Mona Locke, wife of U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke, asked him to become a board member of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Puget Sound Affiliate. With his own mother being a breast cancer survivor, he accepted.
He has served as a roundtable host for the White House Business Council.
Among a long list of his community service titles, he is also a former executive advisory board member for the National Association of Asian American Professionals and a past council president of the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority.
Shen currently serves on the board of trustees for Seattle Community Colleges. “Each board member brings in their perspective from their own experience,” said Harrietta Hanson, executive assistant to the chancellor and board of directors. “He advocates for small business owners and also women and minorities.”
“When you volunteer for these things, you have to have a passion for them, and those are the ones I felt I could apply my passion and my network and whatever else I can offer to serve on these boards,” Shen said.
Married only four months ago, he has two stepchildren. (end)
James Tabafunda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.