Brissa Sotelo Vargas – Week 16: 30-in-30 Honoree

This week’s 30-in-honoree is a wonderful partner to SCLN. Brissa Sotelo-Vargas is the Manager, Southern California Public and Government Affairs for Andeavor Corporation, LLC. A dual alum of Leadership Southern California ’09 and California Connections ’16, Brissa stays active and engaged with SCLN by participating in alumni programming and speaking to current fellows. Brissa, who is a mover and shaker in Southern California, was also recently recognized by Hispanic Lifestyle Magazine for the Latina of Influence award. Read below to learn Brissa’s inspiring leadership story.

One of America’s greatest presidents said “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other”-John F. Kennedy. When I think about leadership the words by JFK resonate and remind me that every day we learn something new about whom we are and those we touch. To be a leader you have to lead by example, but also be willing to be led by others. Most importantly, being a leader is standing up for what is right and just when others are not willing to stand up, even when you are the only person standing.

Growing up in a single parent home, where my mother tried to make ends meet, taught me not only compassion, but also the need to stand up for others that were marginalized as we were, due to our economic status. The reality is that many families where we grew up faced the same adversities, and some still do to this day. These are part of the stories that go untold from families living in poverty and without access to things like education, affordable housing, transportation, and food. Many times I was my mother’s translator and advocate, as she only spoke Spanish, filling out forms or attending meetings without fully understanding what was being said or asked of her, so it was difficult for her to make decisions on her own. During community meetings and or even at the doctor visits I found myself making decisions for our family as I was the only one that spoke English. It was at that point that I knew I had to be a leader for my family.

As I began to explore what career I wanted to pursue I knew it had to be somewhere in the advocacy realm. I also knew that the only way to be able to advocate for others was by empowering myself through education and by being engaged in my community.I constantly engaged in community meetings, and participated in volunteer activities.

In undergrad I was engaged in student government and the tipping point there was my undergrad was very diverse in population so I was learning about other student experiences. This experience made me step out of my element, but also taught me that we weren’t always going to agree on issues but we could agree on disagreeing. Upon graduating from undergrad I went to work for a city councilmember in the City of Los Angeles.  This position allowed me to give back by being an advocate for the district constituents.

During the time I worked for the city, I was introduced to a group of women, from Hispanas Organized for Political Equality that had similar goals of changing their communities and being advocates for others. I felt empowered by how many other women had the same passion, and that I was able to learn from them.  Another group I would attribute to learning from and being able to connect with other leaders is Southern California Leadership Network.  I had the opportunity to go through leadership training with SCLN-Southern California in 2009 and was able to meet leaders across the Southern California region that were also looking for ways to improve their respective companies, non-profits and organizations. In 2016 I went back to SCLN, and participated in California Connections which gave me the opportunity to learn about issues affecting the entire state. The most fascinating thing is that I have never stopped learning. To be a leader is to have the will to be ready to learn everyday.

In my current role at Andeavor I serve as the Mgr. of Public and Government Affairs.  Andeavor is an American independent refiner of clean transportation fuels, ranging from gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel. This position has been challenging given that there has been a move to shift away from fossil fuels. While California remains the most progressive state when thinking about the environment and the economy, it is important to look at the bigger picture.  As a leader within the Andeavor it is my responsibility to communicate how the residents will perceive the company direction but also to inform the stakeholders about operations and try to find consensus when possible.

As a leader there are times when you will stand alone, but knowing that you did your best to make an informed decision is going to be the only thing that matters. In thinking back, I attribute my leadership skills to my mother. She made a decision to come to the United States for a better life. She also made a decision that even though she would be a single parent she would raise us with high expectations, values and morals.

The best thing that has been part of my development has been failure, because it has only been through failure that I have been able to learn to try harder and better the next time.