Debi Coleman, Oregon tech executive and former Apple CFO, dies at 69 – OregonLive

Debi Coleman in 2012. She was Apple's CFO before becoming one of Oregon's leading technology executives. Allan Brettman/The OregonianOregonian file photo
Debi Coleman, former chief financial officer at Apple and one of the Silicon Forest’s most prominent technology executives during the 1990s, died Friday at age 69. She was an investor and arts patron who dabbled as a Broadway producer.
“Debi was a staunch ally and champion for women and girls across Oregon, particularly within the technology community,” said Sandra McDonough, former CEO of Oregon Business and Industry and the Portland Business Alliance.
McDonough praised Coleman for serving as a role model, “demonstrating that women could reach the highest levels in their field.”
When Coleman started out in Oregon technology in the early 1990s, she said there were hardly any other women in executive roles.
“Most of my opportunities came when the guy in front of me failed,” Coleman told The Oregonian/OregonLive in 2019. She said many top executives weren’t inclined to hire women for senior leadership roles in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but that women would often thrive in those jobs when given the opportunity.
“You’re not the first choice, but you’re there when they need you,” Coleman said.
She had degrees from Brown University and Stanford. Coleman was a financial executive at Apple, working on the team behind the original Macintosh computer, according to an obituary from multiple Oregon business organizations. The notice did not specify a cause of death.
The Technology Association of Oregon gave Coleman its lifetime achievement award this year.
Coleman moved to Oregon in 1992 to be vice president of operations and materials at technology instruments company Tektronix. She left two years later when Tek spun out printed circuit board manufacturer Merix, where she served a CEO and chair.
“Generally the C-suite is the top of the pyramid,” she said. “You have to climb brick by brick.”
In 2001, Coleman left Merix to start SmartForest Ventures, an effort to boost local funding available to Oregon startups. SmartForest’s portfolio included an array of regional tech companies, among them SignaCert, Kryptiq Corp., NexPlanar, iMove, Attensa and Phoseon.
But SmartForest fell out of compliance with the capital requirements of its funding through the U.S. Small Business Administration, which took control of the firm in 2010.
Coleman had served on the boards of the Oregon Symphony and Oregon Ballet Theater. In 2008, she formed Rainy Day Productions to fund local theater groups.
Then, in 2012, she served as a producer on the short-lived Broadway run of “Leap of Faith.”
“Debi was an embodiment of the Oregon spirit,” said Duncan Wyse, president of the Oregon Business Council. “Our state has lost one of its most outspoken advocates.”
Coleman’s survivors include her mother and four siblings.
— Mike Rogoway | [email protected] | twitter: @rogoway | 503-294-7699
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