As a mover and shaker in California economics and politics, Maria Contreras-Sweet has spent much of her professional life enriching the quality of life for others. She has distinguished herself as a leader in business and finance, transportation, energy and health care.
Ms. Contreras-Sweet has special ties with Mt. San Antonio College. She is not only a distinguished alumna (1975), but she also addressed the Class of 2000 as the Commencement speaker. She holds a B.A. in Political Science from CSU Los Angeles. Professionally, Ms. Contreras-Sweet is the Managing Partner and cofounder of FORTIUS Holdings, LLC, a private equity fund and commercial real estate development company. The fund has a Latino business focus with investments ranging from $1 million to $10 million.
Previously she became the first Latina to hold a cabinet-level position in California under Governor Gray Davis as Secretary of Business, Transportation and Housing. She managed 42,000 employees and a $14-billion budget and oversaw the departments of Financial Institutions, Corporations, and Real Estate. She also headed the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), the Department of Motor Vehicles, and the California Highway Patrol.
As an effective housing advocate, Ms. Contreras-Sweet led the implementation of Proposition 46, a $21-billion housing fund designed to stimulate the state’s economy. She also provided leadership in the health care industry by creating the state’s first Department of Managed Health Care to advance and streamline HMO delivery systems. She also served on the Board of Directors of Blue Cross of California. A recapitalization of Blue Cross led to the formation of The California Endowment, a $3-billion healthcare foundation, of which she was a founding member.
In the aftermath of the nation’s worst electric power crisis, Ms. Contreras-Sweet chaired the Finance Committee of the California Independent System Operator (which manages the state’s electrical power grid) and helped stabilize a highly volatile energy market. In the corporate sector, Ms. Contreras-Sweet was Vice President and equity partner of the 7Up/RC Bottling Company and President of the California/ Nevada Soft Drink Association.
As a community leader, Ms. Contreras-Sweet has used her power and influence to articulate the perspective of women and Latinos relative to a wide range of public policy. She is the founding President of HOPE (Hispanas Organized for Political Equality), a member of the Rules Committee of the 2004 Democratic National Convention, a member of the Women’s Leadership Board at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and a member of the International Women’s Forum. In addition, she served on the Hispanic Advisory Board for PepsiCo and Frito-Lay Company and the Executive Committee of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.
Californians have benefited greatly from the leadership and contributions of Maria Contreras-Sweet. Mt. San Antonio College is proud to claim her as one of its own and proudly recognizes her as one of its Distinguished Alumni of the Year on the occasion of its 60th Anniversary.