EMBA alumus: Kevin Conroy

Executive MBA helps Seattle entrepreneur survive—and thrive

Like many successful serial entrepreneurs, Kevin Conroy’s career has had big ups and big downs. He grew up in California, earned an undergraduate degree and went to work for a large company. But he had an itch to branch out on his own. Launched in 1990, his first venture grew quickly, but hit a wall and eventually failed.

“I didn’t have the skills to make the right changes when the economy shifted,” he explains. “We didn’t understand the headwinds of the economy and the things that were deeply impacting our business that we had no control over.”

He was determined to learn from his mistake. In 2000, he started Blue Rooster, a technology consulting firm, as a one-man operation. Realizing that the crash of his first business was related to gaps in his education, Conroy (EMBA 2004) enrolled in the University of Washington Foster School of Business Executive MBA Program in 2002 and never looked back. Courses in economics, finance and strategy filled those gaps and helped him build a solid foundation for his new business.

Blue Rooster grew steadily. But when recession hit, it threatened to undo everything Kevin had built. That’s when he reached down into the bag of business tools from Foster and connected with his alumni network for advice, shifting his strategy to respond to conditions over which he had little control.

“We changed quite a bit when the downturn happened in 2008, and our change as a company came about from the EMBA Program and all the things that I learned there,” Conroy recalls.

Blue Rooster not only survived, but thrived, tripling its business, growing to 50 employees and attracting a long list of Fortune 500 companies as clients. Now Conroy is nourishing the entrepreneurial spirit in those big companies, in his local community and at the Foster School, where he regularly serves as a judge in business plan competitions.

Today Blue Rooster is headquartered in a stylish, corrugated-steel building in Seattle’s Fremont district that also houses another of Conroy’s ventures, Five Zero Nine Wine. Blue Rooster’s open-plan office space features high windows that look south to the neighborhood’s working waterfront on Lake Union and the city’s downtown skyline.

Conroy is excited about what’s happening in Seattle and sees himself as a partner with the University of Washington and Foster School’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in promoting entrepreneurial activity.

“Small business is the engine of job growth,” he observes. “This area—the University District, Fremont, South and North Lake Union—this is really a hub for new businesses, and whatever we can do to keep that going and growing is very important.”