Gates Foundation poached Washington STEM CEO, then gave nonprofit $100K to find a replacement

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The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation headquarters in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

In June, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced that it hired Angela Jones, the well-regarded CEO of Washington STEM, the statewide education nonprofit that connects underserved students with STEM education and opportunities.

Jones, with more than 25 years of administrative and outreach experience in K-12 and higher education and who once served as vice president at Eastern Washington University, was considered a plum addition to the massive foundation’s deep talent pool. Jones is now director of the Washington State Initiative at the Gates Foundation.

Angela Jones, former CEO of Washington STEM. (Brian Wells Photo)

But it turns out, the foundation’s successful recruitment of Jones wasn’t a total loss for the smaller nonprofit. In exchange, Washington STEM received a $100,000 grant from Gates to help fund the search for Jones’ replacement.

“Since we had to see Angela off, they did want to support us in that transition,” said Migee Han, the Washington STEM’s chief development and communications officer. “The leadership of Gates was very respectful.”

A Gates spokesperson confirmed the grant was to help smooth the transition. “The foundation provided Washington STEM with a general operating support grant to use as needed to ensure a smooth leadership transition,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

It’s a move right out of Amazon’s recent playbook when it hired Seattle University’s Roshanak Roshandel as a principal product manager for Alexa Experience. Roshandel was the chair of university’s Computer Science and Software Engineering Department.

After the tech giant plucked away Roshandel, it donated $3 million to the school to help create an endowed chair to lead its Computer Science Department.

At the time, Mike Quinn, dean of Seattle University’s College of Science and Engineering department, said the endowed chair would help bolster the reputation of the school’s computer science department.

“The Amazon Endowed Computer Science Chair will continue to build the visibility and prestige of the computer science department nationally and internationally as it continues its rapid growth in size and quality,” Quinn said in a statement to GeekWire.

The Gates move, similar to Amazon’s hiring of Roshandel, underscores how talent can pool at the top when large organizations buy talent away from smaller ones, a reality that’s endemic in everything from business to baseball.

But in these two cases, it wasn’t a total loss for the smaller, less wealthy organization. Leaders at Amazon and Gates wanted to ensure that existing professional relationships extended beyond the talent transfer. Washington STEM for years has worked very closely with Gates, Han said. And it will continue to do so.

“We were sad to see Angela go,” Han said, adding that the transition grant was discussed during Jones’ recruitment. “But we had to apply for it,” she added. “It didn’t just show up out of nowhere.”

And the money will help Washington STEM continue recruiting top talent, she said. “We’re in the search process right now.”