Doug Mah: State worker, Olympia mayor and now business owner

You might best know Doug Mah as a former mayor of Olympia, but since January 2013 Mah has been a business owner, deciding to put his state and local government experience to work in the form of management and public affairs consulting.

Mah, 51, worked in state government for 23 years and also served 10 years on the Olympia City Council. From 2007 to 2011, he was the city’s mayor. One of his newest clients is the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce. David Schaffert, president and chief executive of the organization, said he turned to Mah and his expertise so that he could advocate on behalf of chamber members, work directly with local governments and help with the chamber’s shared legislative agenda.

We sat down with Mah to ask him five questions about his business.

Q: Why did you want to go into business?

A: It was something I always aspired to do. And it’s become easier to start a business because of improvements to technology and the Affordable Care Act. Health care is no longer dependent on a employer who can provide benefits, and pre-existing medical conditions are no longer a factor in getting health care. It was a liberating endeavor, and it allowed me to put my state and local government experience to work.

Q: What do clients request of you most often?

A: A lot of it has to do with refining the message they are putting forward. They also want to work with state government and want a better understanding of how the state procurement laws work. I also can help my clients improve their communication between board members, facilitate strategic plans, or meet with them if they need help to help identify the elephant in the room that is preventing good conversation. I can come in and bridge those communication gaps.

Q: Your name recently came up at a Port of Olympia commission work session, which wants to improve its relationship after some difficult meetings. How would you help?

A: I was an elected official and so I understand the pressure of trying to have open and honest conversations in public that can be constrained by the open public meetings act. I recommend they bring on someone, as they have suggested, to identify areas of overlap, of common concern and unique concerns around their relationship. If they improve how they communicate with each other, they will improve how they communicate with the public. My background gives me a unique perspective of what you need to take into account moving forward.

Q: We’re hearing the next legislative session could last as long as nine months. What advice would you share with lawmakers?

A: The best piece of advice I can give any body or organization that’s about to enter into something fairly contentious is to not take it personally. They have policy positions and campaign promises that they have made, and they need to understand that they have to cooperate and come to some sort of consensus in order to move forward. Not doing anything, which in itself is a decision, is not going to be sufficient for anyone.

Q: You also work with political candidates. What advice do you give them?

A: I typically work with first-time candidates. They lack perspective, pace and calendar. Here’s the process, here’s when it gets busy, and here’s what you want to pay attention to is some of the advice I share with them, as well as how to allocate resources. There is a cycle, and understanding it is important, as well as when to spend and when not to spend.

Doug Mah & Associates

Owner: Doug Mah.

Type of business: Management and public affairs consulting.

Years in business: Opened January 2013.

Among his clients: Thurston County Chamber of Commerce, Prime Locations and Pacific Northwest Gigapop.


Work experience: Mah worked in state government across several agencies, including the state Office of Financial Management and the state Department of Information Services, for 23 years. He also served 10 years on the Olympia City Council and was the city’s mayor from 2007 to 2011.

Education: Mah earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees in sociology at Western Washington University. His undergraduate degree had an emphasis in criminology, while his graduate degree had an emphasis in demography.

Did you know? Mah was born in Spokane but grew up in Bellevue.