Karen Lee was named chief executive officer of Pioneer Human Services in September 2010. Pioneer is a nationally recognized nonprofit headquartered in Seattle, Washington. With nearly 60 facilities, the organization provides treatment, housing and employment services across the state to people overcoming the challenges of criminal histories, substance use disorder and mental health issues.
Pioneer is also a unique social enterprise that operates several lines of business to include a full-service precision sheet metal fabrication and machining division for the aerospace and commercial industries, and food services divisions. The enterprises provide training and job opportunities for the people Pioneer serves, and generate revenue to help sustain the social mission.
Lee is responsible for providing strategic leadership and direction for the organization to achieve its objectives of expanding client employment opportunities, growing new business lines and partnerships, and improving client services and evidence-based outcomes.
Before assuming her current role, Lee served for five years as the Commissioner of the Washington State Employment Security Department. Here she was responsible for the agency’s $680 million biennial budget, 2,800 employees and more than 70 offices across the state. She oversaw a $3 billion dollar trust fund and the collection of over $1.5 billion taxes annually. During the recession, she led the agency in saving 22,000 Washington jobs through a nationally renowned and innovative program.
Lee held a variety of positions from 1997 to 2005 at Puget Sound Energy including manager of municipal and land planning, manager of safety and engineering standards, and as director of gas operations, where she was wholly accountable for the safe distribution and delivery of natural gas to users throughout western Washington. Prior to this, Lee was as an associate attorney at Preston Gates Ellis (now K & L Gates) where she specialized in municipal and land use litigation.
Lee is a member of the Washington State Bar Association, vice president of Tabor 100, and a trustee at Western Washington University. She is also a member of the Rotary Club of Seattle, past president of the National Association of State Workforce Agencies, past president and trustee of the University of
Washington Alumni Association, and former member of the Cascade Land Conservancy.
Previously, she was named as one of the Puget Sound Business Journal’s Women of Influence award recipients in November 2014, and Governor Jay Inslee appointed her to the Washington Student Achievement Council in May 2013. The Puget Sound Business Journal also named Lee as on one of the “40 under 40” honorees.
Lee earned her Bachelor of Science degree with a concentration in Russian Studies from the United States Military Academy at West Point. She holds a law degree from the University of Washington, School of Law.