Sandi Sigurdson is no stranger to the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce — or the SLO County community as a whole, for that matter.
“I’ve been around the chamber in varying capacities for many, many years,” Sigurdson said. “I’ve just been around for a really long time.”
Sigurdson, who has served on the chamber’s board of directors twice, is a former San Luis Obispo planning commissioner and worked for the Environmental Center of San Luis Obispo (ECOSLO) — later serving on its board of directors.
In addition, she’s the past president of the Central Coast Planned Giving Council. She also served as the executive director for the San Luis Obispo Symphony from 1994 to 2009.
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All that experience made Sigurdson a seemingly natural fit to take over for departing chamber CEO Ermina Karim, who left her position at the end of June, in an interim capacity. Sigurdson assumed her new position July 9.
“I’m honored by the board of directors to be asked to be in this interim position while they look for a new, permanent CEO,” Sigurdson said. “If you want to know what a typical day looks like, right now I look at how our employees are doing, how our membership is doing, and how we are serving our board of directors to give them the information they need and expect.”
Sigurdson elaborated on her decision to take up the position and her relationship with the previous CEO.
The two met while Sigurdson was working for ECOSLO and Karim was working for the chamber, and the two organizations clashed over a political issue. According to Sigurdson, she and Karim have been friends since.
“One reason I took this job was because of how much I admire Ermina,” said Sigurdson, who’s worked with Karim at the chamber since 2011. “She had qualities that I wanted to emulate and carry on — a passion for social justice, an understanding of environmental protection as a it relates to a good business climate, advocating for women and championing the underdog. I could look at her and think I believe what she believes.”
Since January 2010, Sigurdson has been the executive director of Leadership SLO, a program that fosters community leaders within the region. She will balance those responsibilities with her current duties as interim CEO.
“As interim CEO, my experience as director has helped me quite a bit because I already have a lot of established relationships within the city,” Sigurdson explained. “I’m very fortunate to be able to look around, and whether its folks in government, folks in business or folks just living out in the community, I can see that I have a lot of good relationships.”
By Sigurdson’s estimate, she will hold the position of Interim CEO for roughly six months while the chamber looks to find a permanent CEO. Sigurdson has no intention of applying to be the full-time CEO, as she wants to focus on her duties as director of Leadership SLO.
“I’ll be here long enough to make sure the staff feels supported, that the board feels supported, that our membership is happy,” she said. “We’ll continue with the values and culture that we’ve been fostering for a good many years.”
Above all, Sigurdson loves the city of San Luis Obispo. A longtime resident, she is married to Steve McGrath. The pair have three kids and three grandchildren — all of whom were raised in the city.
“Leadership in SLO has been an enormous blessing in my life,” Sigurdson said. “There have really been hundreds of people who I’ve had the chance to meet and share with over the years. It’s what makes a community and has made my life whole.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Sandi Sigurdson has two grandchildren. It also gave the wrong last name for her husband. The errors have been corrected.