Tuesday Luncheon Keynote Speaker Biography
Maria Contreras-Sweet became the 24th Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration and a member of President Obama’s Cabinet on April 7, 2014.
Contreras-Sweet is a successful entrepreneur, business executive, and state cabinet official. Throughout her career in the public and private sector, she has been a champion of diversity, access to capital and equal opportunity for all Americans.
Prior to her arrival in Washington, Contreras-Sweet founded ProAmérica Bank, the first Latino-formed commercial bank in California in more than 35 years. As the bank’s executive chairwoman, she focused on providing access to capital and counseling to small- and mid-size businesses in Los Angeles. She previously started Fortius Holdings, LLC, a venture capital firm that invested in small businesses.
Contreras-Sweet was the first Latina to hold a state cabinet post in California. As Secretary of Business, Transportation and Housing Agency, she managed 13 departments, including Caltrans, the California Highway Patrol, the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Department of Financial Institutions. She managed a $14 billion budget and a workforce of more than 42,000 employees during her five-year tenure. She led in the creation of the state’s Department of Managed Health Care and its Office of Patient Advocate and in the implementation of a $2.1 billion housing bond that stimulated the state’s economy. During California’s energy crisis, she chaired the finance committee of the state’s electrical power grid, CA-ISO, helping to stabilize the state’s volatile energy market.
Contreras-Sweet entered the private sector as the director of public affairs for Westinghouse’s 7-Up / RC Bottling Company. She rose to vice president and later became an equity partner in the company.
Contreras-Sweet was a founding director of The California Endowment, a multi-billion dollar philanthropic health foundation. She was appointed by the United States Senate to serve on the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission, created to help break down barriers between women and the executive suite. In 1989, Contreras-Sweet founded Hispanas Organized for Political Equality (HOPE), a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization dedicated to encouraging Latinas to engage more fully in the democratic process.
Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Contreras-Sweet is a first-generation immigrant who came to America at age 5 with her mother and five siblings. She is married to Ray Sweet, and they have three children and a granddaughter.