Maria S. Salinas is a newly appointed member of the Pacific Council’s Board of Directors and serves as president and CEO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. An accomplished businesswoman, entrepreneur, and stalwart community leader, Salinas’ business acumen and financial expertise has led her to the boardrooms of community organizations, higher education institutions and community banks. She has extensive experience in finance and accounting, corporate governance, audit, and regulatory matters.
Salinas is also the founder of Salinas Consulting, a finance and accounting consultancy firm. For more than 10 years, Salinas Consulting has worked with major corporations providing collaborative financial expertise to specific engagements.
Salinas recently spoke to the Pacific Council about Los Angeles’ global influence, expanding access to diverse voices in the public and private sector, and her vision as a new member of the Pacific Council’s Board of Directors.
Pacific Council: As the new president and CEO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, how can you build upon the great progress the Chamber has made in LA and further lead it onto the world stage?
Maria Salinas: One of the most important things is to amplify the voice of business and elevate the role of the Chamber not only in Los Angeles and not only across the country, but internationally as well. Los Angeles is very well positioned to be a leading global city and having a Chamber of Commerce that leads globally goes hand in hand. We can strengthen our global role and build upon the work the Chamber has already done.
Do you see the West Coast, particularly Los Angeles, as an important center for international affairs?
I do because Los Angeles is perfectly primed to be at the center of international affairs not only for its proximity to international markets, but because of the thriving global economy and the presence a robust consular corps as well. We are the gateway for Latin America and the Pacific Rim, and we are very much involved in global trade and foreign investment in these regions. It is up to us to be intentional about our growth in international affairs.
As a lifelong Angeleno, with extensive experience in both the private and civic sector, do you think LA’s role in foreign affairs has evolved?
It definitely has. I believe that we have all the elements here in Los Angeles to have a voice globally. With organizations like the Pacific Council, LA Chamber, and the Mayor’s Office, we continue to grow our presence and influence in global affairs. Los Angeles is a global city and home to many Angelenos who experience international aspects of life in their very own neighborhoods. As our economy grows, to remain competitive, we must think global in every aspect of our lives.
How can Angelenos better engage in foreign affairs and be global citizens?
We need institutions like the Pacific Council to drive a global agenda for the city with partners like the Chamber and other civic organizations. And I’m excited about the international initiatives in the Mayor’s Office as well. At the Chamber, we are amplifying our thought leadership towards having an impact on trade and people. Together, we can drive our community forward. We should all be ready for global markets and be able to compete globally across every spectrum. We want our workforce to be global in their thinking.
At the Chamber, we want to prepare the workforce of the future and make sure Angelenos understand all the opportunities available to them. One of the elements for that workforce to be ready is to be prepared to compete globally; whether they start a business or are part of a major corporation or an institution, they have to have that cultural competency to navigate global issues.
Based on your experience in the public and private sector, how can these sectors be more inclusive of diverse voices and reflect the diversity of Los Angeles?
We have had a lot of conversation at the Chamber about being inclusive and reflective of the community we represent. The diversity of this region is an asset, and with growing economies, we need to make sure that everyone can participate. We want to make sure that we don’t leave anybody behind. In order for us to make sure that it is as inclusive as possible, we need to tap into the talent pipeline, the workforce of the future, early. We need to make sure they have those opportunities to take advantage of things like study abroad programs and international internships, so they can gain that appreciation for what it means to understand global affairs. Such opportunities need to be made available to all students and women alike and we need to make sure we are creating access to the student population in every corner of LA.
We also must understand that we need to educate families that may not understand the benefits of such programs. For me, a daughter of immigrant parents, my parents found it difficult to see me go away to college, and I only went from Northeast LA to Westchester, so studying abroad was out of the question. This is the reality of many students who are first in their family to go to college. How are we going to make sure that students like me have access to the opportunities and can take advantage of them? How do we as institutions ensure that they are not left out? An international experience could enrich and diversify the educational experience of our future workforce.
How do you see women as integral to the future of foreign affairs and policy? Why should women be seeking leadership roles?
I come from a Hispanic household where I don’t think my parents would have expected their daughter to be out in front in business or in the civic context. Growing up, while I was raised to be strong, I was also raised in a very traditional home. As a woman, my life story has been about getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. It’s been about having the courageous leadership to step out in front and take risks. In the workplace, many times, I’ve been the only female voice in the room, and I see the impact that my viewpoint has had on decision making. I’m a big advocate for women taking on leadership roles because quite simply, their voices are so needed.
There needs to be more diversity in board rooms, whether they are corporate or nonprofit, because the perspective that women bring is another diverse perspective into a decision-making body. We, as women, need to make sure that we step into these roles so that we can contribute to the dialogue. For me, when I’ve been the only woman in the board room, I have seen the impact of my words, where fellow colleagues might say, “I was thinking that exact thing,” or, “That’s a great point, I never thought of that.” That shows me that we need our voices to be heard. I’ve learned that a diverse make-up can lead to better conversations and outcomes.
What leadership/professional advice would you like to share with younger Pacific Council members?
Explore the world! Explore every aspect of our society so that you understand it and where LA fits in to the bigger picture of our global impact. The reason that is so important is because with a 10-year outlook and the impact of technology on global affairs, we need to be prepared. And we need to have prepared leaders so they can contribute to our society through that global lens.
The city of Los Angeles and the state of California have major economic power. How can business and government work together to keep up this economic prosperity and keep up with that global competition?
Working in public/private partnerships, we can have greater outcomes. It’s all about collaboration opportunities because working in your own silo does not work anymore. More and more companies are looking for a return on their investments and that means having folks collaborating across sectors. When we tackle an issue, it’s not just the business community that’s impacted, it’s also the nonprofit sector, academia, etc. The more you look at issues as a group and a team, I think you will have a better outcome.
You have held other board positions. What do you hope to foster in your new role as a member of the Pacific Council’s Board of Directors?
I’m really looking forward to helping the Pacific Council elevate Los Angeles as a global community. I think Dr. Green has a great vision and I’m excited with how that aligns with the Chamber. I think there is an opportunity to grow in a city that is already global in every way. We just have to get ourselves all organized and working together. We are at the cusp of moving a global agenda forward!
Get in touch with Maria if you're interested in learning more about her work by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about the Pacific Council's Global LA initiative.