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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, June 25, 2012, 6:30 am

Women in Business 2012: Suzanne Smith

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    Suzanne SmithExecutive director, Sonoma County Transportation Authority and Sonoma County Regional Climate Protection Authority, 490 Mendocino Ave, Ste. 206, Santa Rosa 95401, 707-565-5373, www.sctainfo.org 

    Age: 42

    Residence: Santa Rosa

    Education: B.A. Political Science, U.C. San Diego; Master of Public Administration, University of San Francisco

    Staff: 10

    Tell us about yourself and your company: I was born in British Columbia, Canada, but raised in Santa Rosa since I was 5 years old. After working for the state Legislature for five years I became the executive director of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority (SCTA) in 1997.

    The SCTA is a public agency that is governed by local elected officials from the cities and county and is responsible for coordinating and allocating transportation funding countywide. Since 2004, SCTA has administered Measure M funds, totaling more than $17 million annually, from a local sales tax for specific transportation projects in the County. The SCTA partners with other agencies to improve all modes of transportation including: Highway 101, local streets, passenger rail, bus transit, bicycle and pedestrian facilities. I live in Santa Rosa with my husband, Tim, and dog Sophie.

    Is there a major accomplishment in the past year or so that you would like to share? Completing Highway 101 improvement projects from Petaluma north to Windsor and initiating work in the Marin–Sonoma Narrows that will complete a new lane in each direction through southern Sonoma and Marin. This was achieved through a partnership with the state to fund construction and relied heavily on our locally approved transportation sales tax measure as well as state Proposition 1B bond funds. We leveraged every $1 in local funds with $6 from the state and delivered more than $700 million in transportation improvements in the Highway 101 corridor.

    What is the achievement you are most proud of? Running an effective and lean governmental organization that has delivered hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure projects and been asked repeatedly to take on more and diverse responsibilities.

     Women in Business 2012What is your biggest challenge today? We are struggling with the competing needs and desires of all transportation modes while funds are declining.

    Words that best describe you: Competitive, curious, analytical and outgoing. And always hungry … literally.

    As a successful female professional, what were the biggest obstacles you faced and how did you overcome them? My biggest professional obstacle was linked to ageism. I was hired as the executive director when I was 27 ,and there was definitely some sentiment that my age and lack of experience were going to be tested in certain areas. I worked hard to make people feel comfortable that I had the skills to perform the work above and beyond what was expected and to demonstrate that new ideas and fresh perspectives can enhance a situation.

    How do you think your profession will change in the next five years? The public sector is shrinking even as needs are growing. The future will be focused on how we balance needed services with limited tax revenues to best serve the most people. The world of transportation is evolving to include many other facets such as land use planning, housing policies, healthy communities, open space protection and greenhouse gas emission reductions. Without solid infrastructure and transportation options the economy suffers and quality of life is diminished. The transportation sector will be altered by the availability of state and federal resources and we will likely need to rely even more on local answers to our transportation problems.

    Who was your most important mentor? And tell us a little bit about that person: I’ve been very lucky to have worked in amazing professional environments — surrounded by smart, creative and fun people. The teams in each of those offices have formed me professionally and helped me grow personally. Valerie Brown, whom I worked for in the Legislature right out of college, stands out though as my most important mentor. Watching her balance work, people, interests and needs plus her genuineness and inclusiveness have been a huge influence.

    What advice would you give to a young woman entering your profession or the work world today? Empathize, initiate and adapt. And keep a sense of humor.

    Most admired businessperson outside your organization: Debbie Meekins is someone I’ve always admired. Her professional success, community involvement and warm and fun personality are something to aspire to.

    Current reading: Zoli by Colum McCann, Who’s Your City by Richard Ford and 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

    Most want to meet: I would like to have a dinner party with Hillary Clinton, Jon Stewart and David Bowie — and all of our spouses.

    Stress relievers: Hanging out with family and friends, playing with my dog and listening to music.

    Favorite hobbies: Making wine, golf, reading, cooking

    Is there something we didn’t ask that you would like to add? I appreciate being included in this since my profession is not typically viewed as a traditional business. However, government — and in particular, local government — has a direct impact on our lives, affects the business environment and, while not run like a business per se, must face similar challenges and constraints. I appreciate that Women in Business acknowledge there is a link between success in the public sector and success in business.

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