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Microsoft's Plenefisch steps out of comfort zone, gains rewarding career
When Irene Plenefisch made the transition from working at SonoSite, Inc. to Microsoft Corp. in Redmond three years ago, she wasn’t sure if she was making the right choice moving from one industry to another.
She had spent 15 years in the medical devices field and that knowledge base was not transferable to the world of technology. But the skill set she had gained from working with the government at her previous company was transferable and she quickly found that she didn’t miss her old job.
“It’s been great,” she said about her job as government affairs director for Microsoft. “I’ve never really looked back.”
Plenefisch works with local governments on issues important to the company and its continued growth as well as issues important to the state, including transportation, business climate, economic development and quality of life. In her position, she said she works specifically with local governments, including the cities of Redmond, Seattle and Bellevue as well as King County and a few counties in central Washington. She said there are other people within Microsoft who work with the higher levels of government.
In addition to her work with Microsoft, Plenefisch is in her second year as co-chair of the Seattle Chamber’s Policy Council — which works with the local business communities to speak with one voice in a “cohesive fashion” to lawmakers on what they can do to provide a healthy business climate.
Plenefisch — a Kirkland resident — is originally from Ann Arbor, Mich. She received a bachelor of arts degree from St. John’s College in Maryland and a master of business administration from the University of Michigan. She and her husband moved to the northwest in 1992.
While in school, she studied marketing and economics, which didn’t exactly prepare her for the work she does now.
“I have an unconventional background for a person in government affairs,” she said.
Plenefisch’s career path began at SonoSite, a diagnostic ultrasound manufacturer, with a technology angle related to reimbursement but grew into an advocacy role regarding policy affecting reimbursement. When this happened, she questioned branching out and whether she should stick to something she knew. But her decision to step out of her comfort zone has been very rewarding.
“Government,” she said, “I think, is fun.”
In specifically working with local governments at Microsoft (she worked on the federal level at SonoSite), Plenefisch said she has enjoyed getting to know the mayors, city council members and other staff and officials as she works more closely with them and gains a better understanding of their needs.
“It’s more personal,” she said, comparing it to working at the federal level. “It’s more collaborative.”
Although Plenefisch enjoys her job, it does come with some challenges — the biggest of which is balancing a career with parenthood. The mother of three said while it may sometimes be more difficult for women because of the historical roles they have held in the past, being a working parent can be challenging regardless of gender.
When her children — who range from 11 to 17 in age — were younger, Plenefisch spent a few years working part time. She said during that time, she didn’t feel as if she was giving her all to either part of her life, but in the end was glad she continued working. Plenefisch said she and her husband have covered for each other over the years.
“We’ve shared the responsibility of taking care of the family both economically and physically,” she said.