H. Jon Runstad, a Seattle real estate leader for more than 50 years who oversaw the development of iconic buildings in the city’s skyline, died on Tuesday. He was 81.
Runstad founded Wright Runstad & Company in Seattle in 1972. As a longtime CEO of the real estate firm, he led the development of downtown high-rises like Rainier Square Tower and 1201 Third Avenue — the second- and third-tallest buildings in the city.
He also had a hand in projects like the University of Washington’s Husky Stadium, completed in 2013, and the ongoing development of Bellevue’s Spring District, which began in 2007.
Over his long tenure with the company, Runstad gained a reputation as a strong leader, who expected perfection from himself and others.
“You wanted to work for him, you wanted to prove you could be as good as you could be,” said Cindy Eden, the company’s former director of development. “There are architects that are still in awe of him. Everybody just wanted to do the very best in whatever they did, because Jon demanded it. It’s that simple.”
Runstad retired as CEO in 2019, but he remained as the company’s chairman until his death. He died after cancer, according to a UW obituary.
Greg Johnson and Walt Ingram, the company’s co-CEOs, released a joint statement on Tuesday, mourning the passing of a “monumental figure” in the Seattle region.
“Jon was marked by his keen intellect and understanding of all aspects of real estate, his disciplined way of thinking, his ability to make concise decisions, and most importantly his belief in each of the projects and the people that worked towards successful outcomes,” the statement said. “He was a generous philanthropist, a stern leader, a wonderful partner, and an unwavering friend to many. We will miss his leadership, guidance and steady hand.”
In the same statement, Andy Bench, the company’s managing director of development, said that it had been a “great privilege to work closely with Jon and learn from his approach and dedication to doing things the right way.”
In an interview Wednesday, Ingram said he first met Runstad when he joined the company in 1985. In nearly four decades, Ingram said, Runstad remained “virtually the same.”
“It was that sameness to Jon, the way he approached things and his vision of matters, that was incredibly clear, concise and comprehensive.”
“He could be very demanding, but he was never unfair,” Ingram said.
Runstad’s philosophy, Ingram added, was shaped by his experience as a collegiate oarsman at UW, where he won two collegiate rowing championships in the 1960s.
“Everything that he learned, he learned at the end of an oar,” Ingram said. “I think his appreciation for, and love of, being an oarsman in many ways transcended what he was doing in real estate. The understanding of hard work and discipline and being precise — he had a great amount of confidence.”
Runstad, along with his wife, Judith, was known for his philanthropy and civic involvement, the statement said. He was a prominent supporter of UW’s rowing program, as well as the Waterfront Seattle project.
“Jon’s long-standing support of and enthusiasm for Waterfront Park reflected a deep commitment to Seattle and a steadfast belief in the power of this city to reinvent itself,” said Maggie Walker, chair of the Friends of Waterfront Seattle organization, in an emailed statement. “He was so proud to have his daughter Kayley on our board, helping to lead the charge. Seattle will miss Jon’s energy and optimism.”
The Runstads also contributed to UW’s graduate program in 2002, providing a donation to establish what is now the Runstad Department of Real Estate. The program, which added an undergraduate major in 2018, now enrolls nearly 300 students, according to department chair Steven Bourassa.
“The fact that we have an academic program in real estate at the University of Washington really owes a lot to Jon and Judy Runstad,” Bourassa said in a Wednesday interview. “Without them, it may not have happened.”
Runstad is survived by his wife of 46 years, Judith; his two daughters, Stacey Runstad Campbell and Kayley Runstad Swan; and his sister Jill Runstad Hall, among other family members.