Madison 365

12 on Tuesday: Sandy Morales


Sandy Morales has risen quickly through the ranks at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County. Since starting as development director in 2013, then moving up to chief operating officer and taking the helm as CEO in January. She is also a founder and former president of the Latino Professionals Association of Greater Madison and former board member of the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County. She is a member of Downtown Madison Rotary, Association of Fundraising Professionals, the Edgewood College Advisory Board, and graduate participant of Leadership Greater Madison.

Rank your Top 5 MCs

  • Lauryn Hill
  • Common
  • Queen Latifah
  • Ana Tijoux – She's a French-Chilean MC. Sick rhymes. Sick beats!
  • Drake

Which motivates you more: Doubters or supporters?

I would say supporters. I try to surround myself with people I can go to for guidance and can count on to give me constructive feedback, and likewise I would do the same for them because we need to rise and lift each other up to be the best us. With supporters, they're willing to help you achieve your goals and help you achieve them faster and better. Doubters are just noise and a distraction and are sitting on the sidelines. You can't win if you're not playing on the field with your team.

What does it mean to be a Latina in Madison?

My experience is a little different. I often have to go into spaces where I'm the only Latina in the room and to top it all off I'm visibly younger than the rest. So, it means that I have to work a little harder on my end to look the part, wear the suit (thank goodness I like them) and remind myself to just be me. I'm proud to be Mexican-American, daughter of immigrants, and bilingual. I leverage my background to build trust and relationships with others especially when I have a duty to bring resources to my organization. I also understand that I have a duty to pave the path for other aspiring Latina CEOs just like others have done before me. Being the only Latina CEO in the room is not something I'm proud of – it's something I want to change.

What three leaders in Madison under 50 have impressed you the most?

Gloria Reyes gave a moving speech at the Latino Professional Association of Greater Madison's Third Annual Building Our Legacy event this past Saturday. She made everyone feel special and proud of all that our Latino community has accomplished together. Despite her stressful yet important job with the city, she is thoughtful in her work and ensures all voices are heard at the table, even the small ones.

Tania Ibarra is one of the most determined people I know. She never quits and has elevated the Latino Professionals Association by bringing more programming to its members. Even though she is a go-getter and someone that gets stuff done, she recognizes that there is always more to learn and opportunities to improve.

Israel Lopez is one smart dude. He's a lawyer, entrepreneur and a strong believer in mentoring. Israel has come up with this cool platform that allows college athletes to mentor elementary school kids through an app. I admire his tenacity and passion in building something he really believes in.

What's the biggest stumbling block in Madison to turning the corner on our racial disparities?

We need to evolve our thinking of seeing racial disparities as a black and white race issue. Madison's lens of racial equity is not broad enough. The reality is that all non-white communities are affected, but their voices aren't always at the table to give light to what should be a broader lens. I say this because even though I'm very passionate about issues affecting the Latino community, I'm responsible for an organization that serves kids from various backgrounds and it's important that they're all successful. We also can't forget about children and families that are bi or multiracial. They don't fit into the current lens.

What are your top three priorities at this point in your life?

  • My family. They are my peace and keep me centered. Plus, I'm an only child so making sure we spend time with my parents is also important. Hopefully they can move here in the next couple years.
  • My health. I try to eat well amongst all the chicken dinners, but also find time to do yoga and workout to keep the stress levels down.  
  • Finally, finding more mentors for our kids on our wait list and ensuring our Bigs are the best mentors they can be so our kids are successful in life.

You have been married for 11 years. What would your husband say has changed the most about you over that time?

He might say not too much has changed, but he would probably mention that I've become more confident and trusting in my abilities given my role at BBBS and my involvement in the Latino community. Not exactly change, but he would say that now as a mom, he sees a different side of me. One that is more compassionate, laid back, and strives to be a good role model for our daughter.

What do you find different in your job since transitioning from COO to CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County?

When I was COO, it just meant that I was getting my feet wet, reading files, and trying to figure out what comes next. Now as CEO, I have a better idea of where we're heading with a strategic plan in place that will take Big Brothers Big Sisters to the next level to serve more children, serve them with quality support and intentionality, and ensure they graduate from high school with a plan for success.

Give me three reasons why Madison is a good place to live if you are Latino.

Latinos like Madison for the same reasons everyone else does. It's a great place to raise a family, we have a thriving Latino community with organizations here to connect you to other Latinos, and we have a variety of Latino-owned businesses including restaurants and nightlife spots we can all enjoy.

If you could be any entertainer, alive or dead, who would it be and why?

Selena for sure. She was a celebrity with humble beginnings that rose to the top because of her talent and she made her own music. Plus her whole family was involved in her career and you could tell her family was her number one priority. Selena cared about others, her community, and never said "no" to anyone that wanted an autograph. She knew she was blessed and always remained grounded.

I don't know too many young CEO's in Madison in their mid-30s. what is your secret to rising so fast to CEO?

It was a few things. First, I believe no matter what role you're in, you have to deliver and do what you said you were going to do and do it well. These people stand out and that's how you build trust and relationships within an organization. Second, ask for help or advice from experienced people who can become your mentors. There was a time where I didn't know what the next step was going to be in my career (it wasn't CEO at the time). So, I asked someone who I felt was at the top and she helped me figure out my next steps. Finally, you have to take risks. I took a risk by making the leap to BBBS from United Way and then again when I applied for the CEO job. I constantly ask myself "What do you have to lose?" and as long as I don't have to sacrifice my integrity, and I have the skills, then I shouldn't be afraid to put myself out there. It's not a mindset that has come easy to me but the reality is that we're all CEO's of our own lives and we own our paths to get to that vision of how we see ourselves and what we we want to be.

What is your favorite holiday?

It has to be Christmas. I love Christmas music and all the food and decorations, which is what I enjoyed most with my family when I was younger. Christmas was the time when I would hear my family's stories about living and growing up in Mexico or just the traditions they would do to celebrate the holidays. Plus now that my daughter is four, she understands Christmas better so it will be fun to celebrate with her.

Local And Regional News

Photo Galleries

This Week's Circulars

E-News Registration