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updated 2:54 PM CDT, Jul 28, 2018

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Success of Men's Squash world event facing challenge of dollar support

When Shabana Khan won the rights to put on the 2015 Men's World Squash Championship in Bellevue in November, she hoped it would provide the community an opportunity to promote its role as host of a world-championship sports events, foster a sense of community involvement and support empowering a woman entrepreneur.

But Khan, an athletic 47 year old who is part of what's been described as Seattle's First Family of Professional Squash and was once ranked number one among the nation's women squash players, hasn't yet been able to muster the local financial support necessary to ensure the success of the event 
 
 
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At this point, Bellevue City Councilman Conrad Lee has become her advocate in the quest to have the City of Bellevue participate, something that would be a given in other communities that had the opportunity to grab the brass ring of a sports-event world championship. 
Lee, who as the only Chinese local elected official in the state may be more attuned than most elected officials to the importance of understanding the attitudes and interests of those foreign residents, is convinced after meeting with Shabana Khan that the city must support the event.

Kahn had ambitious goals in outbidding other cities to be able to put on the first men's squash world championship event ever held in this country, which takes place November 13-22 at Meydenbauer Center and has attracted 112 of the world's top squash players.

She was emboldened to go after the most prestigious event in the squash world and bring it to Bellevue after she had successfully partnered with her father, Yusuf, who was responsible for turning the Seattle area into a center for squash, to put on the Women's World Championship in 1999.

"After hosting the Women's World Championships, I felt very confident in being able to bring the world's major squash event to this area," she said.

"Additionally as a former player I wanted to take the sport to a new level and treat these amazing athletes how they truly should be treated," she said. "I had set out to create a new standard for the sport and expectation of the most prestigious event on the Professional tour."

Most important, she wanted to thank her ailing father for his role in building the Seattle area into the center of squash in the Western U.S., after the 10-time India squash champion brought his family to Seattle in 1968.

The senior Khan started his own racquet club but soon merged it into the Seattle Athletic Club, which he then helped build into one of the most successful squash clubs in the country. In addition, four of his eight children have been professional squash players, including Shabana who in 2001 beat her younger sister, Latasha, the reigning national champion, to claim the title "best in the family," which is the case of the Khans, meant best in the country.

Lack of a commitment for a major sponsor for the 2015 men's event and the reluctance of some seemingly logical major local companies to step up with financial support for the men's championships have left Khan facing the prospect of a financial shortfall of perhaps $150,000. Her original budget was $1.1 million but she has already pared that to about $800,000.

A negative image for Bellevue corporate and community support may be unfair, as Bellevue Chamber of Commerce President Betty Capistany suggests.   

Putting some perspective on the lack of major financial support, Capistani made the point that "a new event that it not on people's radar needs significant lead time to get in the event budgets of major corporations."
"And the financial involvement of major corporations is much smaller than before 2008," she added.
Khan says advance ticket sales have accounted for $130,000 of the revenue and hopes that the ticket sales can be boosted with sufficient social media focus. 
The irony of the lack of sufficient support was framed in a Seattle Times article early this summer. "The world championships will be a coming-out party for what will be a $12.5 million renovation of Bellevue's convention center as well as a ramped-up effort by the city and its tourism marketing organization, Visit Bellevue Washington, to showcase the city and attract leisure and convention visitors".

Her largest financial supporter at this point is Pacific Marketing International (PMI), an early pioneer with contract manufacturing in China and Southeast Asia that has become a product development and manufacturing organization with offices in eight countries. Rob Harris, PMI CEO, has committed $80,000 to the event and, as an avid quash player, is a longtime fan of the Khan family.

"I didn't hesitate to jump in and I have no idea why she isn't getting the support she needs," Harris said. "My word! This is a huge opportunity. The world championships of a sport played all over the world."
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Washington's only local elected official born in China sees major relationship opportunity

 

Bellevue City Councilman Conrad Lee, the only local elected official in Washington State who was born in China, is convinced the U.S. and China are "on the verge of a relationship opportunity that needs to be seized now to create a partnership that will provide long-term benefits for both nations."

And Lee, 76, a member of the Bellevue council since 1994 and mayor from 2012 to 2014, thinks the establishment of the Global Innovation Exchange (GIX) in Bellevue will make the Eastside "a world center for innovation that will enhance the relations between the two countries in a way that will influence the rest of the world."

Conrad Lee

"China and the U.S., with similar geography and populations that have similar personalities, have been friends for 100 years," Lee said. "We are the two biggest economies of the world, the biggest pools of talent and the biggest markets."

He thinks the Global Innovation Exchange (GIX), a partnership between University of Washington and Tsinghua University, which has been described as the MIT of China, with the $40 million funding from Microsoft, will be a key to the relationship he hopes to see emerge between the two nations.

"The GIX, as the beginning of a commitment on the part of the two vitally important universities and a world-leading company, will help provide a deeper relationship and the exchange of ideas between the U.S. and China and spur economic opportunities across the innovation ecosystem," Lee suggests.

But he cautions that it's important for the U.S. to move rapidly to seize the opportunity to create a special relationship while the current leadership of China is in power and open to that possibility.

And he is concerned that " bureaucrats of both sides are running around talking policy and don't know how to get beyond that to real communication," adding "China doesn't yet have a cadre of people who can understand and communicate with us and the same is true from our side."

"But we are both pushing to find the right connections," Lee added.

"If we are friends in the future, the world will benefit, but if we are enemies, the world won't sleep well at night," added Lee, who was born in Kunming in Southwest China into a family in which his father was founder of a bank and his mother was a high school graduate at a time when few women even attended high school.

Lee was eight years old when his father, who was an entrepreneur and the founder of The Bank of Kunming, died when his plane was lost at sea while he was on a flight from Shanghai to Hong Kong. Lee recalls that "two years later, as Communists were heading for our region, we left for Hong Kong where we had connections because of my father's had business there."

Lee was schooled in Hong Kong, came to the U.S. in 1958 to attend school at Seattle Pacific, but transferred to the University of Michigan to get his engineering degree and received his MBA from University of Washington.

He became a U.S. citizen in 1971. He worked at Boeing where, as an engineer, he was on the team that developed the 747, then worked for Seattle Solid Waste Utility as a project manager on the team that transformed garbage disposal to solid waste management to make Seattle one of the first cities to recycle and compost its garbage.

He was appointed Regional Administrator of the SBA by President George W. Bush, then ran for the Bellevue City Council. He is mid-way through his sixth term, a tenure twice as long as any other member of the council.

Lee sums up the potential that sets the stage for a U.S.-China close relationship noting, "We need their money and they want our creativity and innovation. We have a nation with a culture of creativity whereas China is very structured, which is the opposite of fostering innovation."

"But the Global Innovation Exchange may help turn that around," he added.

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