Profiles: Fiona Ma
Chairwoman of the California State Board of Equalization
Establishing a Legacy in Legislature
Fiona received a bachelor's degree in accounting at Rochester Institute of Technology with a listing in the Who's Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges in 1988 honoring the nations most noteworthy graduates of high learning, a master's degree in taxation from Golden Gate University, a MBA from Pepperdine University and her CPA license to practice. Her younger brother Mike (also a GGU alumnus) says that Fiona's role in the family is as a trailblazer who always leads by example. Fiona's perspective is that she has always intuitively understood there is a time and place for everything. She says by listening both externally to the people and situations around you, as well as internally, you'll know when the time and opportunity are right; and then you can't be afraid to go for it.
In 1993 she was at Ernst and Young, one of the "big six" accounting firms at the time and while she hadn't yet hit the glass ceiling, she saw it looming. There were no female partners and few female managers. She decided it probably wasn't going to be a good place to seek her future and decided to leave.
In 1994 she was elected president of the Asian Business Association and found herself at San Francisco City Hall and at the state capitol in Sacramento lobbying for business issues that affected women and minorities. As a result of her work on behalf of the Small Business Association, she was elected in 1995 as a delegate to the White House Conference on Small Business under President Bill Clinton. As her interaction with Washington, D.C. and lawmakers increased at the national level, she began to believe in the importance of government and its ability to create positive change.
Fiona also applied for and was appointed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to the Assessment Appeals Committee and began to understand what she had to offer the world of politics. With her accounting and tax education, love of service and competition, drive and desire to help people, she was sure she could do a better job than the elected officials around her. And so her quest began.
In 2002 Fiona Ma was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and from 2002 to 2006 represented District 4, which encompasses the Central Sunset, Outer Sunset, Parkside, Outer Parkside and Pine Lake Park. "My parents always said 'go ahead, give it a try' about everything while we were growing up and then made us feel good about the attempt, regardless of the outcome. Entering politics full-time wasn't scary for me. Failure never occurred to me. I'm sure that was an advantage."
What Fiona considers one of her most important legislative wins something she hopes will become part of her lifetime legacy is helping to protect the nations toddlers from toxic toys. The years-long effort, which culminated in federal law enacted in 2009, bans phthalates, which are known to be harmful to human health.
Four years later, in the November 2006 elections, Supervisor Ma chose not to seek re-election after winning the Democratic nomination for California State Assembly District 12, which includes San Francisco, Daly City, Colma, and Broadmoor some 420,000 constituents. Fiona soon was off to Sacramento as an assemblywoman, one of eighty members of the California Assembly. She got off to an auspicious start in Sacramento and the speaker appointed her as the Majority Whip, making her responsible for marshaling votes to ensure the passage of crucial legislation to improve public education, expand health care access, and protect the environment.
Assemblywoman Fiona Ma was appointed in 2010 Speaker pro Tempore by Speaker of the Assembly John A. Prez. As presiding officer and member of the leadership team, she runs the daily business of the assembly, responds to parliamentary inquiries, issues rulings on points of order when necessary, and is responsible for guiding legislative priorities.
With her immediate goals firmly in place, she reflects on her future. "I'm not sure what opportunities are coming my way. I think I'd like to run for California State Controller at some point, but I'll just have to wait and see."
When that day does come and if it's on Mas radar, you know it will Fiona believes that her education is one of the many things that will make her a better candidate. With her accounting and tax degrees, she staffs her own committees so she doesn't have to rely on others to interpret data for her. Getting it firsthand makes for better-informed decisions. "I'm far more familiar with the practice and laws than are my aides, so its more efficient and effective this way," she explains.