As the president of SONIC Drive-In, there’s much for Claudia San Pedro to be proud of: the brand’s exceptional performance, an unparalleled pipeline for menu innovation and integrated technology advancements that are enhancing the guest experience at drive-ins across the country. But for San Pedro, she’s most proud of working at an organization that paves a path to achieving what she refers to as the “American Dream.”
“What restaurants do for our economy is provide a non-traditional path to success that’s absolutely critical to a good portion of the population, and we should never lose sight of that,” San Pedro said. “Whether it’s the first job or a temporary job, these opportunities are part of building a person’s character. And it’s part of opening up the possibilities to them of who they could be and what path they could take. And again, particularly for restaurant companies, I think it’s important that we offer both traditional and non-traditional paths to success. At SONIC, and certainly across Inspire, we absolutely do that.”
Those opportunities are meaningful for San Pedro, who has spent much of her life chasing her very own American Dream. She was born in Mexico, moved to Baltimore, Maryland, then to Oklahoma where she spent most of her childhood. While there were many difficult decisions to be made when her parents discussed moving from Mexico — like who would take care of her grandmother — the decision to come to the United States was an easy one.
“They were in their late twenties, didn’t know the language, knew no one, had no money and had to figure out who would take care of my grandmother. Despite these challenges, the decision to come to the United States was an easy one because they knew being able to study medicine was the opportunity of a lifetime,” San Pedro said.
San Pedro tracks the foundation of her future success to her days growing up in Oklahoma. While other students were learning the alphabet throughout kindergarten and into first grade, San Pedro struggled to speak English. That was until a fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Green, took her under her wing.
“Every day after school, out of the goodness of Mrs. Green’s heart, she tutored me,” San Pedro said. “She taught me how to speak and read English. She really became like a grandmother to me and a friend to my parents. I think back now and am amazed by her generosity. She tutored me for free, took the time to get to know my parents and helped them navigate a new world.”
“Who we become in life and where we are is not just the result of hard work and determination, but also the generosity of many people and Mrs. Green is one of those people for me and my family.” Claudia San Pedro, SONIC President
San Pedro’s family moved to Norman, Oklahoma, where her father would complete his fellowship training as a cardiologist. She remembers those days vividly when her father would take her on hospital rounds on the weekends and introduce her to his patients.
“He was so passionate about what he did and his profession,” San Pedro said. “Early on, it instilled in me the joy of finding something that you love to do and doing it 150 percent. That has stayed with me throughout my career.”
San Pedro took that perspective to Smith College in Massachusetts, where she followed her passion to major in economics, and later when she achieved her Master’s degree in business administration from the University of Oklahoma.
And she’s kept that perspective in every line of work — from her time as a budget analyst for the Senate appropriations subcommittees on education, human services and general government in Oklahoma, to becoming the first woman and Hispanic to serve as Director of the Oklahoma State Office of Finance.
“I have had the benefit of working with diverse, high-quality teams and management. Groups of people who are passionate about what they do and are committed to doing what is in the best interest of all stakeholders,” San Pedro said. “And that theme has been the same during my time at SONIC and Inspire, working with high-performing individuals and teams to create opportunities for people to achieve their dreams.”
“Being a part of building something that’s bigger than yourself. You can’t ask for a better career than that.” Claudia San Pedro, SONIC President
San Pedro joined SONIC as Treasurer and Vice President of Investor Relations in 2006, where she worked behind the numbers of the company, but also assisted with marketing and human resources.
“I sought out opportunities to work on new projects and learn new things,” San Pedro said. “Those opportunities, and saying ‘yes’ more often than ‘no,’ gave me such a comprehensive view of the business. And that helped me be a better CFO when I moved into that role in 2015.”
San Pedro would take over as SONIC President in 2018, shortly before the famed drive-in brand was acquired by Inspire. For San Pedro, taking that monumental step to become president of SONIC has provided her moments of reflection on just how far she’s come.