After ten years of service to the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce and decades of work in SLO’s community, the inimitable Sandi Sigurdson is retiring. While we are excited for Sandi as she enters this new chapter of her life, her presence in our office as Executive Director of Leadership SLO will be sorely missed—and how could it not be? Sandi is an unmatched professional, friend and inspiration to us all. So we wanted to take a look back at her career as a leader, a forward-thinker, a doer, and a dreamer.

A group shot of Leadership SLO’s first class ever, including Sandi.

Sandi’s impact on the community starts back in 1991 during her time at ECOSLO. Sandi and her fellow environmental advocates spoke up for sustainability: clean air, clean water, cautious land use and more, including a joint effort with the SLO Chamber to stop offshore oil drilling. Sandi— who describes her ‘90s self as a ‘Birkenstock wearing hippie’— was never afraid to demand care and attention for these issues.  Her activism wasn’t limited to environmental causes: Sandi remembers strapping her young children into strollers and marching the streets of downtown SLO to protest the first Iraq War. She attributes the activist in her to her parents, who fiercely advocated for President Johnson’s Head Start program and campaigned tirelessly for Tom Bradley’s first bid to become mayor of Los Angeles.

The next step in Sandi’s nonprofit career reflects another of her passions: the arts, specifically, classical music. As executive director of the San Luis Obispo Symphony for 15 years, Sandi managed their growth from a small community orchestra to the respected and successful organization it is today. She spearheaded SLO Symphony initiatives that strengthened all musical groups in SLO.

We strive to avoid the idea of competition; the idea is, more music is more music, and everyone wins.

-Sandi in an interview after her tenure at SLO Symphony
Sandi and her husband, Steve McGrath, at the 2019 Annual Dinner

Sandi’s approach at SLO Symphony aimed to improve the collective rather than the individual, a testament to the servant leader that she strives to be. Sandi shares her passion for classical music with her husband, Steve McGrath, who she says has been her rock through good times and bad. When Sandi and Steve were newly married, they made the conscious decision to forego professional advancement outside of SLO County. Their joint commitment to this community has kept them rooted here all these years, even when it wasn’t easy.

And that brings us to how we at the Chamber know Sandi best: her 10 years as Executive Director of Leadership SLO. A graduate of the very first class of Leadership SLO, Sandi’s passion for this program runs through her veins. In 2009 the Chamber was looking for a new Executive Director of Leadership SLO, and then Chamber CEO Dave Garth knew exactly who he wanted on board: Sandi. Sandi considers the apex of her work with Leadership SLO to be the successful establishment of the L25 Sterling Anniversary Fund, created to “welcome diverse voices to every class through affordable tuition and available scholarships.” Another source of professional pride is the fact that all five members of the SLO City Council are Leadership SLO graduates.

At Sandi’s retirement party, she was honored with the creation of the Sandi Sigurdson Legacy Scholarship to fund one Leadership SLO class member each year. With a solid financial foundation, a superb Leadership SLO Board of Directors, nearly a thousand engaged alums and a supportive community, the Chamber can’t wait to see where Dan Rivoire, our new Executive Director of Leadership Development, will take this program next.

Sandi and U.S. Representative Salud Carbajal at Sandi’s retirement party.
Photo courtesy of Kelly Donohue

Sandi has a giving attitude and social justice-driven leadership, and our county is better off because of it—it’s no wonder she was awarded a 2019 Women of the Year Award by U.S. Representative Salud Carbajal. Up next, Sandi is excited to have more time to travel the world, her first stop being a trip to New York with Steve. She also looks forward to becoming more involved with groups like Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, continuing to be a servant leader by making our community a safer place.

The SLO Chamber and Leadership SLO are eternally grateful to have been driven by Sandi’s wit, wisdom and willingness to lead for the past 10 years. Congratulations on this new chapter, Sandi, and from the bottom of our hearts: thank you.

Missed Sandi’s farewell speech at October’s Good Morning SLO? Catch up here: