Seattle City (spot)Light: Jen Chan

Jen Chan joined City Light in May 2019 and celebrated her 20 years at the City of Seattle this past August. Jen grew up in Boston, but after one too many snow-shovel laden winters, normalized negative experiences with Boston drivers (okay, she may have been a co-participant in certain, totally justifiable situations), and a huge desire to see what the other coast was like (GO, SEAHAWKS!!), she moved to Seattle in 1996 to pursue her Master of Social Work at the University of Washington.

In this week’s (spot)Light, Jen shares more about her work at City Light, her life in Seattle, and overall, what she wants to accomplish in her role at the utility.

As City Light’s Chief of Staff, Jen oversees Communications, Performance Metrics & Benchmarks, Strategic Plan, Continuous Improvements, Organizational Change Management and other high-profile projects from the GM’s Office. One of the most common questions Jen hears is: What does a Chief of Staff actually do? Which is a great question since she has wondered that herself, given there is no standard definition and always a challenge to explain to her parents that she is not literally the “Chief” of all staff. So, one way she thinks of her role is: “Aside from management responsibilities for specific work areas, I like to think of myself as the behind-the-scenes person trying to align timing, information, opportunities and decision-making to develop a path forward and get stuff done. While not intentional, I have spent most of my career facilitating workstreams or executive decision-making on topics where I am not the subject matter expert. Having an outsider’s perspective helps me stay out of the weeds, hone in on the most salient issues or concerns at hand, and draw out broader connections, risks and impacts to develop a more informed, scalable and systemic response.” While this explanation may help clarify her role to some, she knows her parents may still not understand what she does. To which it may be easier to just respond: “Yes, mom and dad. I am the Chief of a very small number of staff.”

Jen lives in the Bryant neighborhood in Northeast Seattle with her husband Vince and her two children, Olivia (14), Marcus (12) and dog, Remy (2). Pre-COVID, they spent most of their free time watching their kids’ soccer, basketball and ultimate frisbee games. However, now with their family time freed up, they spend most weekends thinking about the yardwork, closet cleaning, home projects or hiking adventures they should do instead. Three-quarters of the family loves traveling; the other quarter barely tolerates it. This means the family’s traveling habits are typically set by the family member who does most of the household planning (i.e., Jen), so yes, traveling is one of their hobbies.

When reflecting on what Jen would like to accomplish at City Light, she shared: “I absolutely believe that our time here in life and at work is very precious, so for whatever issue I work on, I want to add value to the organization and to customers. At the same time, I think it’s super important to keep everything in perspective, have a little fun when doing good, and definitely enjoy and cultivate the people relationships we form along the way. So, to me, how I judge my time here will boil down to two things: added value and people connections.”