It takes determination, know-how, and strength to level the playing field for a long-marginalized demographic group. Those traits aptly describe Maria Contreras-Sweet, one of the Hispanic community’s greatest achievers to-date.
Contreras-Sweet’s claim to fame isn’t limited to just one or two accomplishments. Perhaps she is known the best as the first Latina administrator of the Small Business Administration from 2014-2017. However, her amazing track record started much earlier than that, and she’s far from finished.
Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Contreras-Sweet moved as a child with her family to Southern California, eventually attending California State University-Los Angeles, where she earned a degree in political science. From there, her public service and community leadership took off.
A Public Servant’s Heart
Among her impressive list of achievements, Contreras-Sweet worked in numerous political positions earlier in her career, including serving as an aid for California State Assembly speaker Leo McCarthy. She also worked as California’s Secretary of Business, Transportation, and Housing, a position she was nominated for by State Senator Joe Montoya. She is the founding director of the Hispanics Organized for Political Equality (HOPE), an advocacy group fighting to secure opportunities for the Latinx community.
In addition to her public service work, Contreras-Sweet masterfully navigated the waters of the private sector, rising to the position of Vice President and equity partner of 7UP-RC Bottling Company. She later founded Fortius Holdings, a private equity and venture firm serving primarily the Hispanic business community. She is well-known for founding ProAmérica Bank, which was a key provider for medium- and small-sized Hispanic-owned businesses in the early 2000s. Many Hispanic companies owe their success to the groundwork Contreras-Sweet laid on their behalf.
Still Going Strong
Today, Contreras-Sweet continues to be a trail blazer in everything she does. Among many other activities, she currently runs Contreras-Sweet Companies, a consulting firm out of West Hollywood, and serves on the board of directors of human resources giant Trinet and energy company Sempra. She is a managing director of Rockway Equity Partners, and an executive member of Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. She and her husband, Ray, have three children.
One might rightly call Maria Contreras-Sweet an over-achiever. But she is also a standard bearer for other Hispanic women, a role model who sends a clear message: success can come to all who work for it, even in a society that is slow to accept change.