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Walker Sands’ President Mike Santoro Honored with 2018 Leadership Award

Courtney Beasley

Courtney Beasley

Last week our president, Mike Santoro, received the 2018 Member Excellence Leadership Award from Vistage, the world’s leading CEO peer-advisory organization. Mike was chosen from a pool of over 800 Chicagoland Vistage members thanks to his leadership within both Walker Sands and the Chicago community.

If you look back to 2007 when Mike joined Walker Sands, it’s easy to see where his leadership has brought the agency in the 11 years since. In 2007, Mike was Walker Sands’ seventh employee. A year later, he was named president, and along with founder and CEO, Ken Gaebler, he refined Walker Sands’ target market and services offerings to help it become the award-winning B2B tech firm that it is today. Since then, Walker Sands has grown from that seven-person boutique into a boundary-pushing PR agency with more than 100 employees and offices in Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle.

And it’s not just his work within the Chicago tech scene that has made Mike a standout leader. Mike is also the co-founder of the Little Giraffe Foundation, a Chicago based non-profit dedicated to helping parents and patients in the neonatal intensive care unit. Today, the foundation has contributed over $176,000 in funding to medical research and NICU support grants, as well as delivered more than 15,000 gift bags with books and toys to NICU preemie families.

Mike’s hard work and dedication, both in the office and out, cannot be overlooked. But more than anything, it’s his commitment to his team and company culture that has made him a true leader in the business world. During the last 11 years, Walker Sands has received recognition for agency growth and client work from leading industry awards like SABRE, The Holmes Report, Inc., PRSA, PR News and more. But being a leader is not all about company growth – it’s about creating a workplace where people actually want to work. Under Mike’s leadership we have created a company culture that we’re very proud of, and we are honored to have been named the No. 1 agency to work for in America (71–120 employees) by The Holmes Report, along with the No. 13 company to work for in Chicago and the No. 3 workplace for women in Chicago by Crain’s. You can hear directly from our employees on why they love working at Walker Sands in our 100th employee celebration video.

As part of the recent recognition from Vistage, Mike was asked to participate on a panel at the Vistage Chicago Executive Summit where he talked about the process of creating Walker Sands’ values: “As the agency grew, the need to define our values to help inform hiring became apparent. Leadership came together and shared stories about people at the company whose behaviors and actions we admired. From those stories, concepts started taking shape and eventually became our values: Learn, Support, Do.”

Those values of “Learn, Support, Do” have influenced much of who we are as an agency. Mike has fostered a culture of constant learning, always supporting your coworkers and getting stuff done. His commitment to our company culture under the guidance of theses values has provided opportunities for many to grow in their careers. So, who better to hear from than Walker Sandsians themselves who have experienced Mike’s great leadership firsthand? These are just a couple of quotes from people at the company who think Mike’s recognition from Vistage is well deserved:

“Seemingly without effort, Mike is the type of leader so many of us spend careers trying to become. He’s naturally curious, cultivates trust with his tireless authenticity and measures success not by his own achievements, but by the those of the people around him. What he’s built at Walker Sands is a culture where ideas can come from anyone, failure is a necessary means for growth and most importantly, people love coming to work every day. I consider working with him a privilege, and am glad for this opportunity to celebrate all he’s done to pilot Walker Sands through its tremendous growth. I can’t wait to see where he takes us next.”
— Ann Hagner, Art Director

“I have known Mike Santoro for several years (both as his client and now his employee). With Mike, what you see is what you get. He is a man of integrity and a natural born leader. He is smart, generous and kind — and one day, he should seriously consider running for office.”
— Brendan Shea, Director of Content Strategy

Congrats, Mike! We wouldn’t be where we are today without you!