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From Electrical Engineering to Dog Walking

Microsoft veteran Brent Turner has a penchant for startups (and causes)

Brent Turner
President & Chief Operating Officer, Rover.com

Vanderbilt MBA 1999

Brent Turner’s career has taken him to a number of interesting destinations over the past two decades. After completing his MBA, Brent, an electrical engineer by training, did a short stint with a private equity group in Dallas before moving to Seattle and a company called Avenue A, a startup focused on Internet advertising. Over the next nine years, Avenue A became aQuantive, which in 2007 became the biggest acquisition in Microsoft’s history, at a reported $6 billion.

Brent, who had been Vice President of Operations for aQuantive, moved into the role of General Manager for Search and Media Network Businesses for Microsoft. He was part of the 2008 global rollout of Microsoft Media Network, Microsoft’s online display media business. Then, in 2009, he helped lead the global launch of Bing, a Microsoft Web search engine that now also powers Yahoo! Search.

From Microsoft, Brent headed to Marchex, a publicly traded company that experienced a rebirth through a focus on digital call advertising. Marchex helps companies reach the right prospective customers using mobile media.

Brent particularly enjoyed being on the front end of this new frontier in advertising. “There are a lot more opportunities than most people realize in these early stages,” he says.

Brent also directs some of boundless his energy into volunteer work in Seattle as well, chairing the board of REST, or Real Escape from the Sex Trade, a faith-based organization that seeks to divert at-risk minors from being trafficked into prostitution. There are a surprisingly large number of minors working as prostitutes in the Seattle area: REST puts current estimates at 450.

“In a typical case, a girl has a broken relationship with her parents and becomes a runaway,” Brent says. He explains that she might take a job in a strip club or a bikini barista stand where she is then befriended by a pimp who makes her feel special, at least initially.

Brent channels his business acumen into understanding, as he says, “the demand side of the equation so we can come up with strategies for reducing the number of ‘johns’ hiring the girls.” REST also works to identify girls who are at risk and give them alternatives.

“We want to find choke points where we can prevent them from entering the life. We want to help them find work and understand their identity—that they are children of God,” he says.

The work is difficult and emotionally demanding—“It’s not for everybody,” he explains—but it’s ultimately rewarding when girls come out of life on the streets.

In 2014 Brent left Marchex (but remained in Seattle) to become Chief Operating Officer for Rover.com — which bills itself as the nation’s largest network of pet sitters and dog walkers. While he loves his adopted city, he relishes each opportunity to return to Nashville, where he chaired the Owen Alumni Board for four years.  

For him, Vanderbilt will always be a home port. “Easily the period in my life when my perspectives on the business world, and the world in general, opened the most was the two years I spent at Owen,” he says.

“Easily the period in my life when my perspectives on the business world, and the world in general, opened the most was the two years I spent at Owen.”