Lou Sandoval: Pioneer at the Helm

During his years at St. Francis de Sales, Lou Sandoval (’83) looked forward to a career as a doctor. Accepted into DePaul University’s pre-med program, everything was going according to plan—until a week before graduation from undergrad, when Lou told his dad, “I don’t think I want to be a doctor after all.”

Lou traces the beginnings of what was to become his career path back to his experiences as a Boy Scout: “On my path to earning my Eagle Scout award, I pursued every science merit badge and was doing STEM long before it was a buzzword,” said Lou. “I learned a lot about science and technology, and it fascinated me.”

Lou with wife Sonia and daughters Sarah and Sofia, at the Grand Canyon

Lou with wife Sonia and daughters Sarah and Sofia, at the Grand Canyon

Sandoval began his career in sales, marketing, and management at Abbott Laboratories, moving onto other prominent healthcare companies in roles of increasing responsibility over the course of 17 years. “I’d like to say my career took place in thirds,” said Lou. “In the first third, I learned proper form and structure, how to do things. The Fortune 500 companies I worked for focused on training and development, and that gave me a jump start to learn things the right way.”

As it turns out, the subsequent phase of Lou’s career can also be traced back to his experiences as a Boy Scout. At the age of 10, Lou had gotten his first taste of sailing at a Scout camp in Michigan, an opportunity that might not otherwise have presented itself to the son of a steelworker in South Chicago. He became active in the sport again as an adult after being invited to sail on sailboats in Waukegan. Later, while living in Seattle, Lou developed a side business managing customer’s boats, an enterprise he replicated in Miami before his biotech/biomedical career brought him back to the Midwest.

After his return to Chicago, Lou, his brother, and two fellow Pioneers purchased a small yellow 1978 vintage boat that Lou says they “spent more on than it was worth.” A few years later, they purchased a 33’ sailboat they named “Karma,” and Lou befriended the owners of the company that sold it to them. When the owners retired,  Sandoval partnered with fellow De Sales alum Jack Buoscio (’82) and purchased their company, launching Karma Yacht Sales, a premier dealership of sail and power yachts.

In addition to vastly expanding his knowledge and love of boating, Lou says that this second third of his career allowed him to apply the principles he had learned in his previous work within his own enterprise. “At Karma Yacht Sales, we created a culture that engaged our employees in making the company perform well. I applied practices learned in corporate America to make customer service a focal point of our business.” Over 16 years, Lou and his team experienced significant success doing just that; his company earned national accolades for customer service and sales.

Being in business for himself taught Sandoval a lot about the need to keep one’s options open. His business partner departed the business in 2016 after some unfortunate circumstances; however, Lou’s tenacity had him press on. Always a consummate entrepreneur, Lou identified an opportunity to sell his dream business in 2017 and sought to identify his next venture. As luck might have it, a conversation over breakfast two months later led him to what he describes as the back third of his career, serving as National Director of Business Development for a new division of the Brunswick Corporation. “It happened on a whim. It was the right opportunity at the right time,” recalled Lou, who leads the commercial application of technology across Brunswick’s boating division, developing ways for people to stay in touch with their boat remotely. “I love to create things, and this opportunity gives me a chance once again to build something from the ground level up, to create and apply some of the same things I learned in chapters one and two of my career while still staying within the marine industry.”

Looking back at his St. Francis de Sales days, Lou is quick to give some credit for his success to his supportive guidance counselor: “When I was a sophomore at St. Francis, we took a career aptitude test,” explained Lou. “I came back completely demoralized when it gave me high aptitude for doing things with my hands—not that there’s anything wrong with that—but I remember going in and seeing John Cappello, my guidance counselor, and he was inspirational. He said, “Let’s put it in your file and not look at it again. I’ve seen your leadership in sports and the classroom, and I challenge you to dream big.” Lou says that Cappello continued to guide him through his college application process. “He embodied for me what a guidance counselor should be.”

Another big influence throughout Lou’s life has been his parents, but not because they placed an emphasis on success. “My parents gave me the latitude to fail,” said Lou. “They said, ‘I’m not going to tell you what you should do, but allow you to fail and learn from your failures.’ I’ve learned more in the times that I’ve failed than in the times I’ve succeeded; it takes you into different areas and teaches you to persevere. It shows you what you are made of.”

A longtime member of the Chicago Yacht Club Board of Directors, Lou was recently elected to the position of commodore. One of his goals in this new role is to expose more young people to the boating experience. “We want to give them life skills. As a kid from the South East Side, relating to things outside of my immediate experience was difficult at times. When as a young businessman I was able to fit into a new circle because I knew my way around a boat, that made a difference and fostered inclusion. If I can do that for a group of kids through our programs, I would gauge that a success.”

In forging new paths, Lou truly identifies as a Pioneer: “I was the first Hispanic commodore of the Chicago Yacht Club, and the first Hispanic commissioner of the Chicago Area Council of Boy Scouts of America. I don’t like to be the only one, but I don’t mind being the pioneer. A pioneer might go there first, but creates the path for everyone else to follow.”