Carl Guardino wants to improve quality of life in Silicon Valley

The gig: Since 1997, Carl Guardino has been chief executive of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a collection of top executives from high-tech, biotech and green-tech companies. David Packard, one of the founders of Hewlett-Packard Co., started the group in 1978. It now has 335 corporate members, including Apple Inc., Facebook Inc., Microsoft Corp., Netflix Inc. and Oracle Corp.

Driving philosophy: Guardino says he's committed to making "a positive influence on our families and others and whatever portion of the world we are able to touch." As a corporate leader, Guardino wants to join with other Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to improve the quality of life for their companies and their employees by creating jobs and providing affordable housing, good schools and adequate public works, including roads and mass transit.

"Our job as CEOs is not to sit on the sidelines and cheer," he said. "Our job is to get in the game and move the ball forward."

Personal: Guardino, 49, the youngest of four sons, grew up in a home of modest means. His father was a construction worker, hanging drywall for 40 years. His mother was a homemaker. "We never felt we lacked for anything, but I had some great hand-me-down clothes," he said. In 2003 he married Leslee Blow, who runs Canyon Snow, an environmental compliance consulting firm. They have two daughters, Jessica, 6, and Siena, 22 months.

No way but San Jose: With the exception of one year of college in Chico, Guardino was born, raised, educated and employed in and around San Jose, and he's raising his own family in the area. Then known as the Santa Clara Valley, it "was the valley of heart's delight," Guardino recalled. "There were lots of cherry and apricot orchards surrounding us when my dad built our home. It cost $13,000."

In the late 1970s, as the valley was transforming into the Silicon Valley home of high-tech manufacturers, Guardino was torn between going into the ministry or public policy. After a year at Bethany Bible College in the Santa Cruz Mountains, he opted for working with a larger community than an evangelical Christian congregation.

While studying political science at San Jose State University, he joined the staff of then-state Assemblyman Rusty Areias (D-Los Banos). Guardino was vice president of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group from 1991 to 1995 and a government affairs executive at Hewlett-Packard from 1995 to 1997.

Biggest setback: Guardino had hoped to compete in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games in martial arts. Those ambitions ended when, at 17, he suffered a serious knee injury.

"The person I was fighting tried to sweep my legs up from under me, but he did it wrong, too high, and my knee bent backwards. It ended my martial arts career," he said. "It changed the direction of my life."

Guardino underwent surgery and 18 months of physical therapy, and was rejected when he tried to enlist in the Marine Corps. "I'm 49 with the knee of a 100-year-old," he said. The injury, though, hasn't slowed him down much. He still commutes to work riding his bike 32 miles a day from his Los Gatos home to his San Jose office and back. He enters about six triathlons a year.

Biggest accomplishments: Guardino, who was appointed to the California Transportation Commission in 2007 by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, led several successful local ballot measure campaigns that generated more than $10 billion to fund local freeways and mass transit projects.

He also helped create a voluntary housing trust fund that raised $39 million. That capital was leveraged into $1.9 billion in private development that assisted 9,000 families in buying and renting homes. The program also funded homeless shelters.

Latest challenge: Guardino and the other CEOs in the leadership group are backing Gov. Jerry Brown's effort to fill a hole in the proposed state budget with deep spending cuts and the extension for five years of temporary increases in sales, income and vehicle taxes. To that end, they lobbied lawmakers to support a bill to put the tax extensions up for voter approval. That effort, though, may have ended last week as Brown cut off talks with Republicans over a compromise budget, saying they were unwilling to back tax extensions and were proposing an "ever-changing list of collateral demands."

Career advice: "Pick what you're passionate about, what's going to get you out of bed excited every single morning of your life," said Guardino, who rises at 4:30 a.m. every day.

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