Fred Paulsell behind many Northwest ventures

In a city brimming with business ideas, Fred Paulsell found a way to make them grow.

One of Seattle's best-known deal makers, he helped fuel the growth of Costco Wholesale, Seattle's Best Coffee and a host of other ventures.

Mr. Paulsell died in his sleep early Tuesday morning at his Seattle home. He was 63.

An early investor and longtime director at Costco, Mr. Paulsell was an adviser, investment banker and venture capitalist whose sweeping array of projects ranged from coffee to computers to copy machines.

"That was the love of his life — getting out there and shaking the bushes and raising money for great companies in the Northwest," said his wife, Susan Paulsell.

"He had an idea a minute," said Costco Chairman Jeff Brotman, who met Paulsell on a flight to Seattle in 1982 that made an emergency landing in San Francisco after being hit by lightning.

While the plane was grounded for four hours, Brotman shared his idea for a chain of low-cost warehouse clubs with Paulsell, who offered to help raise the money. Within months, a limited partnership called The Cost Club had raised $7.5 million, opening its first warehouse in South Seattle in September 1983.

Most recently, Mr. Paulsell was principal of Buerk Craig Victor, a Seattle investment banking and venture capital firm.

Born in Spokane in 1939, Mr. Paulsell moved to Seattle as a child and attended Garfield High School. After a year at Washington State University, he served in the Army, then earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in finance at the University of Chicago.

He began working for Smith Barney, which transferred him to Seattle at age 30 to establish a new office.

In 1972, he became executive vice president of Foster & Marshall, a local brokerage that was sold in 1982 to Shearson/American Express. Mr. Paulsell then became a venture capitalist, co-founding the firm Foster Paulsell & Baker in 1985. He helped form a group that, in 1994, bought Seattle's Best Coffee, now part of AFC Enterprises.

Jim Stewart, founder of Seattle's Best Coffee, said Paulsell was aggressive in orchestrating deals but never overbearing.

"He was hands-on behind the scenes, in terms of putting the deal together," Stewart said. "But he was really hands-off in terms of running the business — we were the experts on that."

Not all of Mr. Paulsell's ventures were home runs: Ballard Computer, a six-store chain of which he was the majority owner, filed for bankruptcy protection in 1995 and was bought by a Vancouver, B.C., company. But he cast a wide net with investments in enterprises such as TRM Copy Centers, Quinton Instrument, Ostex International, and a pie maker and restaurant operator called Plush Pippin. Mr. Paulsell said in 1995: "One Costco can make up for a hell of a lot of mistakes."

His connections opened doors. Jan Melin, a longtime family friend, said she would send newly minted college graduates to Mr. Paulsell for career advice — meetings that often helped them land jobs.

"He may not have found them the perfect job, but he got them started — he gave them their wings," Melin said.

Mr. Paulsell, a principal of Olympic Capital Partners from 1995 to 2001, also was active in community endeavors. He helped raise funds for the United Way and served as an advisory board member for the University of Washington's Business School and its School of Public Health.

Along with his wife, survivors include three sons, Fred, Michael and David, all of Seattle; daughter Leigh Ann Hines of Durham, N.C.; stepsons Tyler Hebenstreit of Portland, Jake Hebenstreit of Monmouth, Ore., and Tom Hebenstreit of Lafayette, Ind.; and stepdaughter Lindsay Hebenstreit of Los Angeles.

Services are scheduled for 3 p.m. Tuesday at Epiphany Parish of Seattle, 1805 38th Ave. There also will be a reception in Portland at 4 p.m. Saturday at The Racquet Club, 1853 S.W. Highland Road.

Jake Batsell: 206-464-2718 or