Position Announcement : President, Sobrato Philanthropies

President, Sobrato Philanthropies; Mountain View, CA

About Us:

Since the 1950s, the Sobrato Family has played a pivotal role in shaping Silicon Valley through its real estate development and the organization remains very active in real estate development, with a multi-billion-dollar pipeline. Four generations of Sobratos have lived and worked in Silicon Valley and know that, while they have benefited greatly from the region’s growth, too many residents have not had full access to opportunities for improving their quality of life. Sobrato Philanthropies comprises the family’s collective, collaborative, and individual giving through its business, foundation, and other philanthropic vehicles. The Sobrato family applies the same values of leadership, integrity, innovation, service, and stewardship across all of their philanthropic and business activities, working to leverage the combined power of their investments to create opportunity in their local community and beyond.

In 2011, the family adopted a more holistic approach to its philanthropy by organizing Sobrato Philanthropies, which encompasses the Sobrato Family Foundation, the Sobrato Foundation (a supporting organization of Silicon Valley Community Foundation), the family’s individual giving, and corporate gifts made by The Sobrato Organization (TSO). In April 2012, John A. and Sue Sobrato, along with their son John M. Sobrato, became the first multi-generational signatories of the Giving Pledge initiative started by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates. They agree: “Each of us has provided that 100% of our wealth will be donated during our lifetimes, or left to the Sobrato Family Foundation. We hope that this legacy of giving will encourage others to commit their financial resources to worthy nonprofit institutions.”

The Sobrato Family Foundation seeks to expand opportunity for low-income Silicon Valley residents. The Foundation provides families with the critical services through its Essential Human Services program, puts individuals on a path to self-sufficiency through its Pathways for Success program, invests in future generations to achieve upward mobility through its Education program, and enables nonprofit partners to remain in the region through its Sobrato Center for Nonprofits program. The family understands the role it must play as a leader on critical issues facing Silicon Valley by acting as a voice for increased investment in this region. The team at the Foundation values its role as a trusted community partner.

In addition to the work of the Sobrato Family Foundation, Sobrato Philanthropies comprises focus areas of giving beyond Silicon Valley. Stemming from its experience incubating and launching the Sobrato Early Academic Language (SEAL) model, Sobrato Philanthropies invests in statewide efforts to center English Learners in California education. Sobrato is also funding a growing portfolio of collective investments, including burgeoning work in sustainability and other global endeavors.

Sobrato Philanthropies has donated approximately $630 million in cash and real estate and supports a broad range of nonprofit organizations. Beyond such financial contributions, three generations of Sobratos currently serve the community by actively investing their time and energy as business and nonprofit leaders, board members and volunteers, and social entrepreneurs. Sobrato Philanthropies is consistently the largest or one of the largest donors to the Silicon Valley community.

The Role

In collaboration with the family, Board, and program leadership, the President provides intellectual leadership of the foundation and fosters an environment of creativity, efficiency, and innovation in all facets of programming. The President will be based in Mountain View, CA and report directly to Lisa Sonsini, Board Chair, and the Sobrato Philanthropies Board of Directors.

Broadly speaking, the President will bring strong leadership skills, an implicit service orientation, and will:

  • Build out and oversee the Sobrato Philanthropies platform, its core activities, structure and staffing to support the family’s collective, collaborative and individual philanthropy.
  • Optimize, and where necessary refresh, the Foundation’s 25-year history of strong local place-based giving.
  • Develop and build engagement for new philanthropic strategies around common areas of family interest involving multiple tools (grants, impacting investing, policy and advocacy, etc.)
  • Oversee and coordinate support for individual giving by each family member across a range of focus areas (e.g., medical research, plastics, public education, food system reform, global poverty, etc.)
  • Drive highly-effective communication throughout the organization, across TSO, the family and board.
  • Attract, develop, empower, and retain a high-performing team that is focused on results and impact.
  • Create the systems and culture for effective governance oversight and alignment with staff, including a process for setting goals, strategies, plans, budgets and aligned metrics.
  • Implement, track, and report progress against approved plans, making course corrections as needed and allowing for adaptation and learning.

Candidate Profile

In terms of the performance and personal competencies required for the position, we would highlight the following:

Sobrato Philanthropies seeks an accomplished, inspirational, and strategic leader who is passionate about achieving impact. The President will have a creative orientation and be able to cultivate a strong and nimble organization eager to seize opportunities and invest in innovative ways. This individual will display a strong intellectual curiosity and leverage data and metrics for insight, monitoring, learning, and strategy development. They will bring a vision that is, at its core, there to support the intent of John and Sue Sobrato, and the whole family, and preserve their wishes today and into the future. The President must be a culturally-aligned leader with an eagerness to be part of a foundation team and a family enterprise, working closely with the other senior leadership across Sobrato Philanthropies and The Sobrato Organization.

The successful candidate must possess the management and leadership skills necessary to lead the organization through a time of evolution and change. The President will foster an environment of creativity, efficiency and innovation, lead an exceptional team with deep content expertise, and also provide the overarching leadership necessary to advance ground-breaking work. This individual will have the ability to assess challenges of a changing community and, in partnership with the staff and Board of Directors, develop and implement a vision for how Sobrato Philanthropies can engage and have continued impact that matters.

The President will have a track record of success leading a nonprofit, academic, private, or public enterprise with a diverse constituency and broad scope. This individual will have an ability to effectively lead and collaborate with the Board of Directors. As a steward of foundation resources, this individual will be adept at listening, informing, and contributing to a strategic vision, coupled with a willingness to be accountable for the oversight of implementation.

The President will have the following key professional and personal competencies:

Serve as a Trusted Advisor to the Family

  • Have the confidence and integrity to effectively build credibility and relationships with family members and team; act as a senior advisor to effectively anticipate and respond to the needs and requests of family members; proactively serve as a thought partner to help guide family members in thinking through options in order to promote informed decision-making.
  • Support the growing needs of the family across multiple generations while also seeking strategies to bridge individual philanthropic initiatives into collaborative and collective giving.
  • View the family as an asset and be committed to engage all members of the family by inviting their contributions and respecting their unique skills and interests while helping foster consensus and unity.

Strategic Vision

  • Peripheral and long-range acuity to develop strategies that will ensure the foundation’s impact across disciplines and through generations.
  • Servant leader able to operationalize family’s philanthropic vision and interests through leadership and the development of effective strategies/theories of change, use of multiple tools—from grantmaking to impact investing—to address problems that are complex.
  • Capacity to facilitate leadership within the chosen funding geographies, facilitating strategic collaboration between other funders in order to leverage shared strategies and grants where appropriate.
  • Deep understanding of philanthropic practice and strategies; understanding of different approaches to structuring organizations to achieve desired mission and impact.
  • A commitment to developing a culture of learning, encouraging curiosity, experimentation, and reflection on successes and missteps. The courage and confidence to take responsibility for and learn from mistakes.
  • Ability to assist individual family members and coordinate their grant making with other foundation programs that intersect with their specific strategies and keep them apprised of programs and results of all areas of the foundation.
  • Strategic thinker and strong communicator who can make collective grantmaking compelling and engaging by setting clear expectations and implementing effective outcome measurement over time.

Proven Leadership and Managerial Skills

  • Significant leadership experiences that enable the individual to direct a complex organization spanning an array of disciplines and domains in a manner that respects the intent of the founders.
  • Entrepreneurial vigor in creating sustainable models of change, evaluating financial investment in such opportunities, and optimizing impact.
  • An effective builder and manager of teams and culture, who attracts and empowers great talent—particularly the senior program area directors—is experienced in organizational development to be able to build a dynamic philanthropic platform.
  • Capacity to be a strategic thought partner with individual family members, program staffs, grantees, partners and other stakeholders, while holding them accountable for results.
  • Excellent judgement, instincts, and experience in establishing best-in-class governance as the foundation grows and evolves over the coming years.
  • Organizational aptitude to lead an organization of comparable size, scope and scale.
  • Genuine concern for the welfare of employees at all levels and enthusiasm for developing talent and motivating performance throughout the workplace.
  • Communication and inspirational skills to cultivate relationships with partners and stakeholders, generate support for goals, and motivate its team of professionals to achieve the foundation’s objectives.

External Representation and Credibility

  • Credibility to represent the foundation and family as a philanthropic leader in overall philanthropy, as well as in each of its strategic areas of interest.
  • Persuasive speaker and presenter, able to communicate complex information in clear and compelling ways.
  • Capacity for rigorous analysis and thoughtful judgment in all phases of the foundation’s activities, ranging from setting research and programmatic priorities to assessing performance.
  • Broad interests and innate curiosity spanning the full range of the foundation’s endeavors and beyond.
  • Highly networked, with a demonstrated record of success initiating and fostering strategic partnerships with key external audiences–including public officials, foundation and private sector leaders, academic and community leaders.
  • Understanding of the policy-making process and emerging political and legislative issues at the local, state and federal levels, which will affect the foundation’s policies or programmatic interests.

Interpersonal Acumen

  • High EQ/emotional intelligence and ability to work with and at times challenge the family and Board. The individual chosen must earn the respect of the Board and the founder through transparency, honesty, authenticity, and the ability to execute a philanthropic plan and be accountable for its outcomes.
  • Comfort working in a family-directed foundation that emphasizes interdisciplinary cooperation and strategic use of philanthropic tools.
  • A good listener and consultative leader who will continue to foster and build upon the family’s intent and ensure the viability of that legacy for generations to come.
  • Entrepreneurial mindset, with experience in taking and managing associated risks and making associated decisions.
  • Down-to-earth approach with a good sense of humor and ability to effectively (and authentically) communicate up and down in the organization and build strong relationships.
  • An engaging presence, possessing political savvy and a demonstrated track record of success communicating effectively with people from different sectors of society.
  • Unflinching dedication to ethical standards and genuine commitment to the family.
  • A deep commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • A skill for building trust within diverse communities, showing sincere interest in, and the ability to listen to, the points of view of others.

Executing for Results

  • The ability to set clear and challenging goals while committing the organization to improved performance; tenacious and accountable in driving results.
  • Comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty; the ability to adapt nimbly and lead others through complex situations.
  • A risk-taker who seeks data and input from others to foresee possible threats or unintended circumstances from decisions; someone who takes smart risks.


Russell Reynolds Associates has been exclusively retained for this search and prospective candidates are invited to contact Russell Reynolds Associates directly. All inquiries and discussions will be considered strictly confidential. To apply for the role or submit a nomination, please reach out to: sobrato@russellreynolds.com.