Carl Guardino leaves Silicon Valley Leadership Group
Carl Guardino, president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group speaks at the Capital Club about Faster Bay Area. Photo by Janice Bitters.

Carl Guardino, the longtime president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, who championed public policy in San Jose for more than 20 years, publicly announced Tuesday he is stepping down from his role as the business organization’s influential executive.

Guardino, 58, has been with the organization since 1997 and for nearly 24 years influenced public policy on housing, transportation and education. Throughout his tenure, the powerful CEO was known for driving campaigns on crucial proposals such as Measure A in 2000 that brought BART to the Bay Area, the city’s Measure B in 2008, a sales tax dedicated to funding a 16-mile stretch of Santa Clara County’s BART extension and, most recently, leading the effort on the FASTER Bay Area measure, a $100 billion tax measure for transit investment business leaders are hoping to place on the Nov. 2020 ballot.

Despite his tremendous influence, Guardino said Tuesday it was time to cut the cord, though he said he didn’t have a plan for his next career move, noting that he and his wife, Leslee Guardino, would start “having those conversations internally and externally” in the coming weeks.

“I truly do not know what is next, as I did not believe it was appropriate to start searching in any way while I was still being entrusted to lead the Leadership Group,” he told San José Spotlight on Tuesday.

But the decision to leave one of the region’s most prominent business trade organizations, which includes more than 330 organizations such as Apple, Google, and Microsoft, didn’t come easy. First reported by the Mercury News, Guardino and his wife decided the move was best after a series of talks over the holidays and announced the decision to the chairman of the group Steve Milligan, CEO of Western Digital, last Thursday.

But the father of three said he won’t be leaving so soon. It may take anywhere between three to nine months before his position can be filled by the right person, which means he’ll stay until the search for his replacement is complete.

Born and raised in San Jose, Guardino attended San Jose State University, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science. At the start of his career, he worked for former Assemblyman Rusty Areias before landing a role as vice president at the trade association, formerly known as Santa Clara County Manufacturing Group in 1991 — founded by by David Packard in 1978. He eventually was appointed to CEO, just a few years short of when the organization was renamed the Silicon Valley Leadership Group in 2005.

I refer to him as the mayor of Silicon Valley — he’s been the leading advocate and thinker on regional issues for the host of his career,” Terry Christensen, San Jose State University professor emeritus, told San José Spotlight. “Transportation is the number one thing that he’s pulled a lot of elected officials along on. He’s been very persuasive in virtually every case of the transit measures, and negotiated with city and county leaders to put together a package that they think will be supported by the voters.” 

Throughout his time at the influential business group, he nearly doubled the size of the group’s membership and secured top tech companies from across the Valley, while raising more than $30 million in funds from four regional sales tax measures to finance public transit and road maintenance.

“As a former mayor and the current governor, I’ve witnessed firsthand for two decades Carl’s ability to get hard goals accomplished,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement. “His ability to coordinate and collaborate with diverse interests may not seem unique today, but it certainly was a decade and two decades ago when we started working together. I look forward to what lies ahead for Carl and the future leadership role that he will play.”

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, a close friend for nearly two decades, said no one has had as much influence in the region as Guardino in a Twitter post early Tuesday.

“No one has done more to bring people together to tackle our Valley’s greatest challenges — particularly affordable housing, traffic and education — than Carl Guardino,” Liccardo said.

At the turn of the new century, Guardino was named one of the “Five Most Powerful” people in Silicon Valley by the Mercury News, eventually earning him a four-year term on the California Transportation Commission, first appointed by then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in Feb. 2007, re-appointed twice by former Gov. Jerry Brown and most recently in 2019 by Newsom, where he now is serving his fourth consecutive term.

The San Jose native also influenced housing as the co-founder of the Housing Trust Silicon Valley, and by managing campaigns for crucial statewide housing bonds such as Prop 46 in 2002 and Prop. 1-C in 2006.

But those efforts on policy are nowhere near done. Guardino confirmed Tuesday his departure is not a retirement, but a transition, as he still plans to drive policy in a future role working on projects he’s passionate about — engaging with the community and supporting entrepreneurship and innovation in the tech capital’s economy.

“The positive and proactive impact we have collectively achieved to advance our companies and our communities these past 23 years has been the highlight of my professional career to date,” Guardino said in a statement. “My twin professional passions are America’s Innovation Economy and our ability to build stronger communities that benefit all of us. I believe my next step will be an impactful role that accomplishes both of these goals.”

Contact Nadia Lopez at [email protected] or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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