(Special): Bellevue Mayor Dr. Lynne Robinson


Lynne grew up in the bay area and accidentally learned what she loved to do when she was helping a friend become more physically independent by helping her up stairs, and taking her to the gym.  So after getting her undergraduate degree, she dove right back into school and used her savings along with student loans to pay for training to become a Physical Therapist.  After getting her certification, she worked for a terrible boss that made her want to start her own business.  If you stick around until the end you'll get to hear all about how she negotiated her salary, started her own business, and why she got into politics, eventually becoming the Mayor of Bellevue, Washington - Home to some of America's most influential companies like T-Mobile, Microsoft, Paccar, Expedia, Concur Technologies, and many more.

Podcast Transcript

Note:  There may be errors to this transcript (some funny, some confusing - we used an automated transcription software!)

Dr. Lynne Robinson  00:01

I never thought I'd live past 22. For some reason, I was not raised to have aspirations, I'd sure didn't want to be a housewife. So I really didn't know what life was going to have in store for me because there didn't seem to be a path for me to do. The things I really wanted to do is, you know, women were not given permission to do things to

Ash Faraj  00:24

inspiring career stories from today's top CEOs, executives and leaders. I'm your host ash and you're tuning in to the executalks podcast. So Lynne grew up in the Bay Area and accidentally learned what she loved to do when she was helping a friend become more physically independent by helping her up stairs and taking her to the gym. So after getting her undergraduate degree, she dove right back into school and use her savings along with student loans to pay for training to become a physical therapist. After getting her certification, she worked for a terrible boss that made her want to start her own business. If you stick around until the end, you'll get to hear all about how she negotiated her salary started her own business and why she got into politics, eventually becoming the mayor of Bellevue, Washington, a city just east of Seattle that is home to some of America's most influential companies like T Mobile, Microsoft Paccar Expedia group, Concur Technologies, and many more.  I am joined today by the Bellevue mayor, Dr. Lynne Robinson, Lynne, welcome to the show. And thank you for being with us today.

Dr. Lynne Robinson  01:30

Thank you. Good to be here.

Ash Faraj  01:31

So I'm going to high school classroom with you, Lin, who was Lin relative to other kids, tell me a little about your childhood.

Dr. Lynne Robinson  01:36

In high school, I was the mascot. I was the cougar. And I was incognito. So nobody knew I was the Cougar except my family and one friend who escorted me to my game. So all my other friends would go to the games. And I told him I was babysitting. And I'd be doing my Cougar thing in front of them and laughing inside,

Ash Faraj  01:58

you know, kind of fast forwarding a little bit. So you majored in Community Services slash education. What made you choose that in college, remember, what made you choose it?

Dr. Lynne Robinson  02:06

You know, I went into college as an archaeology major. And my family had a fit that I signed up for, like hieroglyphics and pretty specific classes my first year, and they told me, No, you can't take any of those, you have to take Gen Ed, which actually, you know, was very good advice. But I was so disappointed. So I emancipated myself financially. And I took the classes that I wanted to take. So I started out as archaeology major, and then I got super sick. And I had to take a semester off from college, and I was in bed for an entire summer. And I realized that you can have everything going for you in life. And if you don't have your health, you have nothing. And so I decided to go into community services, health, health education with this specialty. And while I was doing that, I met a young woman who was a partial quad in a chair, and she was just so inspiring. And I worked with her. And I actually spent a lot of time doing, I didn't realize it physical therapy with her and would carry her up the stairs to the weight room and help her work out and got her to be far more independent than she was. And she's still independent today. But that work, I thought, boy, I got so much gratification from doing that work. I thought I would do this for free. And so I decided to go to physical therapy school. So three months before I graduated from Community Services, I dove right back in and started taking all my prereqs for PT school, which was pretty hard. And I had not been the best student until that time. And then I got straight A's in all my PT prereqs. I got into Northwestern physical therapy school and had a lot of education since that time as well. But I really love that profession.

Ash Faraj  04:08

It's beautiful. How you kind of found you know, Wow, I love to do this just through kind of by accident. Like you just were helping somebody like, wow, I want to do this, do this for free. So after you graduated from CSU, did you work after the me like how did you? You know, a lot of students always asked me like, Okay, well, I love to keep pursuing education, but I also have to make sure I'm sustaining myself financially. Was there How did you? How did you balance that?

Dr. Lynne Robinson  04:35

That's a good story. Okay, first of all, in high school, I had a choice between taking economics and typing. And I chose typing.

Ash Faraj  04:45


Dr. Lynne Robinson  04:45

and I became like, the best typist in my school. Super good typist. And when I went to college, there was a job in the Word Processing Center. And they had just gotten these IBM mag computers, which were magnetic cards, and they were training people, and so I went in and I got a job. And so I got trained on the first word processor that they made. And actually, it started out with magnetic tape. And then it was cards. And so that summer, I got a job in San Francisco at a law firm. And I was just temporary. They're paying me, you know, half what they were paying the agency that hired me. And then they wanted to buy me from the agency. So I made sure I got at least what they were paying agency. So I like to double my salary at that moment. And I work there every Easter vacation or spring vacation every winter. And all summer. And throughout the summer, I would work six days a week, 10 hours a day, I made so much money. Like, you know, like state college didn't cost that much at the time. But I was able to easily pay for all my education and all my living expenses. And I even I paid for all my education at Northwestern as well. But that was a student loan

Ash Faraj  06:14

very well, by the way, I was gonna ask you to what made you move to because I think Northwestern is in the Midwest, isn't it?

Dr. Lynne Robinson  06:20

It's in Chicago, you know, it was the best school I there was, I think NYU and Northwestern were the top two schools at the time. And I got into both of them Surprisingly, even though my first choice was Mayo Clinic, and I didn't get into that, and I was so disappointed. But um, I just chose Chicago or New York, and I'm so glad I did. I love Chicago. That was a incredible experience for me.

Ash Faraj  06:48

Once you graduated, you started your own physical therapy businesses, right? Like you were self employed.

Dr. Lynne Robinson  06:53

Well, once I graduated, I worked for other people. Of course, I didn't just start out with my own business. I had one person that I worked for who was just like, terrible.

Ash Faraj  07:05

Oh, yeah,

Dr. Lynne Robinson  07:06

yeah. And really inspired me to want to work for myself. So after working for this individual, I started my own business. And I was still going to school, I was always going to school, because I'm also a manual therapist. And I was taking all these classes, and I had two little kids. And I was still getting tested for these classes. It was really a tough time, but I loved it.

Ash Faraj  07:37

You don't have to share this. But I just I'm so curious is there like a particular story, or memory that comes to mind when you say he was a bad boss, he or she was a bad boss?

Dr. Lynne Robinson  07:48

Oh, well, he hired me as a young man to start a clinic for him. And we did a brilliant job. And we decided to get paid. Whatever it is where you you get a low base pay, but then you get a percentage of all the income coming in. So we worked 12 hour days, I mean, we work so hard. And we brought in so many patients, we were seeing 21 patients a day, each, which is insane. And we are doing brilliantly. And that guy never paid us any of the any of the profits. He said he has a software program problem. And he wasn't getting the money that he you know, he had all these excuses. And he's expanding the business. Obviously, he's bringing in tons of money. And so when it came time for my review, he was going to offer me $10,000 more. And he thought he was being generous. And I told him I'll only take double what you're already paying me. And he laughed, and he goes, I never I can't do that. You can and you will because otherwise I'm leaving today. And so he doubled my salary. And I kind of recoup some of the losses

Ash Faraj  09:08

nice, yeah, what's interesting to me about that is like I assume that you learned so much of the skills needed obviously to start your own business there without taking all the financial risk. And it's just like I think that's such a cool thing that he hired you in you know this other person to start this clinic and and to bring it so you had to do the marketing, right? You had to do the

Dr. Lynne Robinson  09:26

Yeah, we did everything and here's the real sticker. He arbitrarily put the guy he hired with me as my supervisor, and it's like, why I don't need a supervisor. I thought we were gonna do this together. Well, it's funny because I found out later he didn't get paid anymore. He just got the title.

Ash Faraj  09:49

Yeah, sounds like male proven privilege to me,

Dr. Lynne Robinson  09:52

whatever. But you know sometimes some of the best lessons in life are learning what you don't like learning what you don't want and then finding a way to get away from that, so that's fine.

Ash Faraj  10:02

So then when did you finally decide, okay, I'm gonna leave and start my own business. So he doubled your salary. And then you stayed right, obviously, and then

Dr. Lynne Robinson  10:09

stay for another year and kind of made an exit plan for myself. And then I went, I did homecare, I had my own business, just working in my house seeing patients, seeing women patients only. And then I got a job at a homecare agency. And I found out there's a certain type of patient that the homecare agencies did not see that were always falling through the cracks. And I found a way to build them through Medicare. And that's when I created my own business. And for many years, I was the only physical therapist treating that type of patient and who knew how to build better care for that patient.

Ash Faraj  10:46

In the past decade, you've been really involved in politics, civic engagement seems to be a passion of yours. What do you love about politics?

Dr. Lynne Robinson  10:52

I don't know that I love politics, although I am a good game player. I'm a good strategist. So that's kind of politics, I guess, you know, I really like to help people, I really like to feel like I making a positive difference. And my role on the Bellevue city council and as mayor gives me that opportunity to do that every day. And it's, it's a very interesting job. It's challenging. But it's a privilege. It really is.

Ash Faraj  11:22

You know, for someone that wants to be a physical therapist, obviously, the path is straightforward. You just You go get a degree in physical therapy, then you start practicing politics, on the other hand, like, it seems like it isn't that straightforward, right? Because there's politicians who are engineers, there's politicians who are lawyers, obviously, there's politicians who are physical therapists. So what would you tell, like a young professional, who has their eyes set on potentially being a leader in their city or mayor of their city? Like, what do you feel like it takes to get there,

Dr. Lynne Robinson  11:47

I think it takes a wealth of experience, I think you have to have lived in a lot of different shoes, to understand challenges of life in your city, you know, there are people who get their degrees in political science and come out and they know policy, they, they have a public administration degree or whatever, and they don't have horse sense. And I think horse sense is like, the biggest asset you can have probably in any job. So that that takes having a lot of different experiences, not all great. But understanding what it's like to live paycheck to paycheck, understanding what it's like, to have a crummy roommate, or a crummy living situation, not being able to get a new car, when you need one getting dependent on public transit. You know, I opt to do public transit today, but for a long time, I had to, and I think that you know, creating your business learning to I think healthcare, honestly, is probably, in my humble opinion, the best foundation you can have, because you don't judge your patients. You know, you try to understand your patient as best you can and figure out what you need to do to make them better. You don't have to like them, you don't have to admire them. But you have to have this desire to want to help everybody and do your best for everybody that you encounter in your in your work. And I feel that way in government as well. You know, whether I like somebody or agree with somebody, I'm still want to give them the best life they can have in my city. And so I always have that perspective of looking for who's falling through the cracks, who's not getting, what they need here, and why and what can we do. And I'm really not about handouts, and more about providing people opportunity. So one of my foundational motivations was to create equitable opportunity for everybody in Bellevue to have a high quality of life. And that has been my mantra, I guess, for nine years, and it still works.

Ash Faraj  14:04

So you say, having been in different shoes is very important, right? So I assume that, you know, like, empathy is important, like being very empathetic is important. What other skills do you feel like are important to pick up on? If somebody if a young professional listening to this is saying, oh, man, like, I feel like you know, some time in my future, I'd love to kind of be a leader, my, what other skills do they need to pick up on other than empathy?

Dr. Lynne Robinson  14:27

I think the most important skill for a leader is the ability to leave yourself at home. It's not about you. And if you're doing it to make yourself feel good about yourself, you're probably not in it for the right reason. Having said that, I will say that politics attracts more narcissists than anything else, because there isn't a lot of perks in the job, except that you get to feel special. And if that's important to you, you know if that's what motivates you, maybe this is a good place. But doesn't mean you're going to necessarily do a good job. So I think it's really great to be able to leave yourself at home, be humble, learn something every day be willing to learn, and put yourself in leadership positions. I mean, I, my first leadership position was I was an elder at my church. Boy, I did not want that job. And I did not think I could do it. And I learned a lot. And then the next thing I was garden club president, I didn't want to be that either. But I learned a lot from that. And then I was on the building network on Aging, which is a advisory board. And I became chair of that I did not want to be chair at all. And then I was on the Parks Board, I became chair of the Parks Board, and then I got on the council. And now I'm the mayor never wanted these leadership positions. They're not fun. They're not easy. But I think I do a good job. I'm not saying I'm better than anybody else. But I think I do a good job. And I do try to do a good job.

Ash Faraj  16:09

I also saw that you helped kind of build a hospital or center somewhere in Ethiopia. And can you talk a little bit about that? Like, what, what sparked you to do that?

Dr. Lynne Robinson  16:20

Go back to my archaeology degree, Ethiopia is just the most amazing, historic place. I had my kids, I think they're like 10, and 12, or 10, or 11, or something. And I read this article in the paper about this organization that was going to go to Ethiopia medical mission. And I'm not into religious missions. I'm not about to tell people what they should believe. But I, even though I'm religious myself, but definitely a medical mission sounded good to me. And so the first time I went with the original group, and we were opening a medical clinic for an orphanage in a very, very poor suburb of Addis Ababa, I met all these kids, and you're an orphan if you if you've lost one parent, so everybody in this orphanage had one parent except one kid. And this kid was like, he's like a labrador puppy. He's just full of energy. He's all over the place. And he's always trading up. He'd go around, he's like, I'll trade you my crucifix, which was beautiful. For your, you know, Walkman pitch we had those times. And then he take that from somebody trade it for something better. And he was just a wheeler and dealer, really smart. He broke into the offices of the orphanage at one o'clock in the morning and hacked into the computer and made an email account for himself, and would email people. And he'd always be asking everybody he met from America, do you have an email address? And then he would, you know, ended up emailing everybody ad nauseum, please take me out of here, please take me to America. So the second time I went, I was going to go back and visit the orphanage. This time, I brought other physical therapists with me. And we taught in Ethiopia. And it was really amazing experience. But everybody said, watch out for yellow, you know, he's a real pain, and he's gonna nag you to death. And I started thinking on the plane, you know, everything about this kid is what makes you successful in life. Right? He's smart. He's a, he's got initiative, initiative, energetic. He's got a good grasp of the English language. And I just decided he was really probably the most likely to succeed in that group of kids. So he was 15 when I went back, and he begged me to adopt them and take them back to America. And I said, I think you're better being a leader in your own country. If you get through school, and you pass your exams, which are really pretty hard to do. I will pay for all your college and all your living expenses. And so we did and he's in his final year of a master's program in engineering.

Ash Faraj  19:19

Wow, that's what Wow, what a story. You're right. I see why, like, you feel like everything in this kid is what it takes to be successful. Like it's yeah, it's beautiful. How would you deal with the homeless problem, homeless population problem and the increase in crime rate? Are they correlated? What do you feel like we need to do to solve this issue? In other words, you know, if you were the Seattle mayor, what would you do? Because I assume that maybe I'm wrong. But I assume that in Seattle, it's like a lot worse than it is in Bellevue. I know there are crimes going up in Bellevue, but not as bad as Seattle, obviously. So anyway, how do you feel about that topic?

Dr. Lynne Robinson  19:54

I spent 10 years in Seattle. I love Seattle. They really challenged right now. They're amazing. Much bigger city and a much bigger population. And I always feel like you know Bellevue managing Bellevue is like redecorating your bathroom as opposed to right decorating your whole house, it's a lot easier to do a small room. And so I'm not going to pretend that I know what to do in Seattle. But there are some major differences in how Bellevue has approached this issue compared to Seattle, Seattle, in abundance of compassion years ago decided that they'd make it legal for people to camp anywhere they wanted to, on public property. Bellevue made it illegal to camp in public property, as long as there's room at the shelter, then we actually sat down with our police and asked them, what kind of laws can we put in, that's going to make it easier for you to do your job, and make it so that these individuals get the help that they need. And so we made it illegal to camp in public spaces, as long as there's room at the shelter. And so the police will go out and talk to the individuals. And it takes about 13 points of contact for an individual who's been living independently outside to want to come in. It's a psychologically, there's a freedom and an independence that you have, even though you're living in dire straits. And you're kind of just in survival mode. When you're in some survival mode, you can't socialize. And the thought of going into a facility with all these people that you have to interact with is really terrifying for homeless people. And so but finally, after enough prodding, and making it hard for them to be comfortable outside there, most people will either move on or go into the shelter. Once you're in the shelter, we have a lot of services available to them. We have a temporary men's shelter right now for with 100 beds who are making a permanent shelter that will be done in 2023. And it will also have supportive housing. And there will be low income housing as well. So somebody could actually graduate through the housing to become independent and have their own place. It's right by Bellevue College, Bellevue College wants to be involved. The biggest problem, two things One was making it really easy for people to live for free outside in Seattle, and secondly, not empowering the police not providing them with the resources that the police need to enforce safe living. You get enough people doing that, and suddenly they they take over. And that's what I think has happened in Seattle. We don't have as many homeless but we have a lot of homeless, you know, it's heartbreaking. You know, my big thing is prevention. What can we do to prevent somebody from becoming homeless, because it's so much easier to help somebody if they have never been homeless than it is to get somebody out of homelessness? That is just like a huge task. It costs so much more money to help somebody get out of that. So one thing Bellevue desperately needs is a $300 a month apartments, you know, just a safe, clean room for somebody to be able because most of our homeless people can afford 300 a month, a lot of our homeless people are working well. And we're working 40 hours a week, but they can't just so frustrating to hear these stories, taking three buses to get to their minimum wage job, and working 40 hours a week. And you know, some of these people are veterans come on, we really need to be paying. I think anybody who's willing to work 40 hours a week should have a living wage. And there's the whole shift in the system that needs to happen in order to support that,

Ash Faraj  23:57

from your experience. What do you feel like causes homelessness? I don't know. It was I was curious about that curiosity?

Dr. Lynne Robinson  24:01

Well, two things. One is traumatic experience, and no support system. You know, there was a time when I was in college, where I was in, I was in an internship and I accidentally packed my checkbook. And I ended up in a city with $20, and no access to money because they didn't have ATMs. And I was too proud to tell my parents so I was trying to live on $1 a day, trying to eat toast and yogurt during my internship, and I had a bike and I was gonna go to the store and buy the yogurt and the bread and I was going to be fine and someone stole my bike. So I was really up a creek and so I call my brother and he said just call dad. And of course my dad wired me money and it was all fine. But I had that option. If I had not had that option, you know, you get so hungry, you don't think straight, and you make dumb decisions, and you get desperate and desperate times call for desperate measures. And that's what these people go through and you, you add a bad situation to trauma, you know, whether they've been abused by a parent or spouse or just somebody on the street, and they're in so much pain, you know, they just do desperate things. And they don't have that support system to help them out. If we were in the same situation that these people have found themselves in a lot of them it started. As a child, it's really important to me, that we give kids our best opportunity. And that we get kids into housing into the Bellevue School District, they get a good education, they break that cycle, I work very hard to do that.

Ash Faraj  25:55

Those of us like myself, who grew up not having having to worry about, you know, abuse and not having to worry about where my next meal came from. It's just like, I wouldn't have never imagined that so I can't really it's hard to relate. Yeah, so  something I look for when I decide to partner with someone or hire someone is

Dr. Lynne Robinson  26:13


Ash Faraj  26:14

the most important quality in a leader in my opinion, is

Dr. Lynne Robinson  26:18

self effacement.

Ash Faraj  26:19

Self effacement?

Dr. Lynne Robinson  26:22

Well, That's my ability to leave yourself at home, right. But really, it's organized thinking too. I mean, it's a combination, there's not one tree, you have to have organize thoughts in order to create a path for what you're trying to do.

Ash Faraj  26:39

Something that has helped me get past my fears and insecurities have been

Dr. Lynne Robinson  26:43


Ash Faraj  26:45


Dr. Lynne Robinson  26:47

I still have them

Ash Faraj  26:48

is that right? Okay.

Dr. Lynne Robinson  26:50

Big time

Ash Faraj  26:50

something I've struggled with as a leader in my past has been,

Dr. Lynne Robinson  26:54

Oh, I think I get my feelings hurt, sometimes that kind of a target. And it does hurt when people say mean things, especially when they're not true.

Ash Faraj  27:05

Something I do to make sure I feel positive and stay productive is

Dr. Lynne Robinson  27:09


Ash Faraj  27:10

If I were to go back and talk to my younger self in my mid 20s, I would tell the younger Lynne

Dr. Lynne Robinson  27:15

it's all gonna work out, it's gonna be okay.

Ash Faraj  27:21

Were you always have anxious in the future at that age?

Dr. Lynne Robinson  27:25

I never thought I'd live past 22. For some reason, I was not raised to have aspirations, I'd sure didn't want to be a housewife. So I really didn't know what life was going to have in store for me, because it didn't seem to be a path for me to do the things I really wanted to do. Because, you know, women were not given permission to do things. If I had known that I could be doing what I'm doing today and have had the life that I've had, I would have been so much more relaxed. But then I wouldn't work so hard. So that all works out.

Ash Faraj  28:02

One setback or failure in my early 20s that I will never forget is

Dr. Lynne Robinson  28:07

I don't know I forgot.

Ash Faraj  28:12

the positive side. The sweetest moment I felt in my entire career was when

Dr. Lynne Robinson  28:18

I'm one of those people. I have a sweetest moment in my entire career. Every day. Every day something happens. I go, Oh my god, this is the best. And then the next day I have another one. I really celebrate each moment. When you feel like either you've seen something beautiful or you know you've accomplished something. You've seen somebody have a better life because of something that happened that you had a hand in. One thing I live by the park and when I got on the Parks Board as a physical therapist, I said you've got to make every park universal design you cannot just have separate ramps, entrances by the dumpsters for people in wheelchairs. So ever since I got on the Parks Board. Every park now has an equitable entrance for people of all abilities. I watch these individuals in their equipment being able to enjoy the park in a way they never could before. And that brings me a lot of joy.

Ash Faraj  29:20

Looking forward. If I could be remembered for just one thing. It would be

Dr. Lynne Robinson  29:25

I have no idea. I just hope people know how hard I tried to do a good job.

Ash Faraj  29:31

If I were stranded on an island and I had access to one meal, it would be

Dr. Lynne Robinson  29:39

okay, it would be the Suvi egg bites at Starbucks.

Ash Faraj  29:43

Oh yeah. I was thinking. You might say I don't know like a giant steak or something.

Dr. Lynne Robinson  29:49

I'm not a foodie.

Ash Faraj  29:50

Thank you for tuning into this episode. Tune in next time to get another dose of inspiring career stories from today's top CEOs, executives and leaders. See you soon

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