Walker Sands elevates Mike Santoro to Chief Executive Officer

by | Jan 28, 2021

Walker Sands, an integrated marketing agency focused on accelerating the growth of B2B brands, announced the elevation of Mike Santoro from president to CEO, effective January 1, 2021. He succeeds Ken Gaebler, founder of Walker Sands and the company’s CEO for the past 20 years. Gaebler will continue to serve on the Walker Sands board.

Santoro has played a pivotal part in the Chicago marketing community throughout his 14 years at Walker Sands. In 2016, he was named PRSA Chicago’s PR Professional of the Year and an EY Entrepreneur of the Year finalist in the Midwest. He also serves on the PR Council board and as the Global Summit Chair for PROI Worldwide, the world’s largest network of independent agencies. Outside of the marketing landscape, Santoro co-founded the Little Giraffe Foundation in 2011 to fund neonatal research and support patients and parents of the NICU.

During his tenure at Walker Sands, Santoro has overseen the firm’s growth from a 15-person boutique agency to an integrated marketing agency with 130 team members across offices in Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle. Last year, Walker Sands was named to the Inc. 5000 for the eighth consecutive year in addition to being named a Crain’s Chicago Fast 50 company and a best place to work by Crain’s Chicago Business and PRovoke. Despite significant headwinds in the industry, Walker Sands grew revenue by 7.1% in 2020.

“If 2020 demonstrated one thing to me, it’s that the people of Walker Sands are truly incredible,” said Santoro. “Despite all the challenges the year brought, we delivered for our clients in a big way. The future is bright, and we have a lot of momentum to build on to achieve our vision of becoming the best B2B marketing agency in the world.”

Joining Santoro on the executive leadership team are Dave Parro, Andrew Cross, Allison Ward, and Mark Miller.

  • Dave Parro, EVP of Operations: Since joining the firm in 2012, Parro has been instrumental in helping Walker Sands scale as an agency to manage its rapid growth. He has led multiple initiatives to improve agency operations, including the development of its integrated marketing offerings, establishment of its Client Services department, and implementation of new systems and processes. As EVP of Operations, Parro will oversee Walker Sands’ growing operations and IT teams, in addition to continuing to lead the Client Services group.
  • Andrew Cross, EVP of Services: In his 10 years at Walker Sands, Cross has built a strong track record of driving growth for the agency, most recently as head of the firm’s Chicago PR group. In his new role, Cross will support more than 90 billable team members across the agency’s core functions of public relations, creative services, branding, demand generation and web. He will continue to serve as an ambassador to PROI.
  • Allison Ward, SVP of Talent: Ward has spent nearly eight years growing Walker Sands, with special attention on culture, mentoring and coaching. In her role as Head of Talent, she will be focused on creating a workplace culture in which every employee can do their best work, making the acquisition and retention of top talent one of Walker Sands’ top competitive advantages. She also sits on the advisory board for the ITA/1871 Women Influence Chicago initiative, which aims to develop the next generation of women leaders in the Chicago tech ecosystem.
  • Mark Miller, SVP of Finance: Since joining Walker Sands in 2018, Miller has made many important contributions to the agency’s financial leadership and strategic vision. He has designed and implemented rigorous processes around budgeting, forecasting and financial reporting that have enabled Walker Sands’ strong growth. In addition to his finance and accounting acumen, Miller plays an important role on the corporate team, bringing together stakeholders in marketing, HR, IT and operations to provide best-in-class support to the business.

“We have aggressive growth goals as an agency, but there’s no doubt we have the team and talent in place to accomplish them,” continued Santoro. “We’re in a great position to accelerate in 2021.”

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