Maria Contreras-Sweet – Week 30: 30-in-30 Honoree

Maria Contreras-Sweet is an American business leader.  She served as an Obama cabinet member, California state cabinet official and investor/entrepreneur. Her achievements in bringing efficiency and modernization to large scale organizations, have earned her international acclaim.

Ms. Contreras-Sweet, was sworn in as a member of President Obama’s cabinet as the 24th Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).  She was charged with supporting America’s 28 million small businesses, which create a majority of US jobs and employ half of our nation’s private-sector workforce.  She oversaw the world’s largest seed fund, the world’s largest middle market fund of funds, as well as a $120 billion loan portfolio.  Contreras-Sweet also oversaw the world’s largest entrepreneurial counseling network and directed one-quarter of the federal procurement activity to small business.  Her drive to bring the SBA into the digital age, and expand into broader domestic and global markets yielded record-breaking results in lending, investments, contracting.

As an entrepreneur, Contreras-Sweet is one of a few in America to start a publicly-traded bank.  Headquartered in downtown Los Angeles, the bank focuses on the small and mid-size market.  She served as its founding executive chairwoman, successfully steering it through the great recession.

Prior, she served as the California cabinet Secretary of the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency, where she oversaw 44,000 employees, a $14 billion budget, and 14 state departments, including the departments of Transportation, Highway Patrol, Housing, Financial Institutions, Corporations, Real Estate and the DMV.  She also oversaw the creation of the Department of Managed Health Care and its Office of Patient Advocate.  During the state’s energy crisis, she served on the board of California’s electrical power grid, CA-ISO, and helped to stabilize the volatile energy market amid the state’s rolling blackouts.

Her corporate foray into Westinghouse, led her to its 7-Up/RC Bottling Company, at the time the largest 7UP bottler in the world, where she later became an equity partner.   During her tenure, they posted double the national average sales and she helped lead California’s legislative negotiations for the creation of the Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act.

She is a founding director of The California Endowment, a three billion dollar foundation dedicated to improving the health status of Californians.  She has served on numerous boards and has been bestowed with honorary doctorates for her public service.  Currently she is serving on the Board of Sempra Energy.

Secretary Contreras-Sweet sees entrepreneurship as a force that can change lives and lift whole communities around the world.  The Maria Contreras-Sweet Award for Global Impact was established in recognition of her global leadership in entrepreneurship.