Profiles: Fiona Ma

Fiona Ma

Fiona Ma, CPA

MS Taxation ('93)

Current California State Treasurer and former California State Legislator (2006-2012)

Knowlegable Trailblazer

Fiona Ma received a bachelor's degree in accounting at Rochester Institute of Technology ('93) with a listing in the Who's Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges and a master's degree in taxation from Golden Gate University ('93). Her younger brother Mike (also a GGU alumnus) says that Ma's role in the family is as a trailblazer who always leads by example. Her perspective is that she has always intuitively understood that there is a time and place for everything. She says by listening to the people and situations around you, as well as your insides, 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 Four 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.

She was elected president of the Asian Business Association in 1994 and found herself at San Francisco City Hall and at the state capitol 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.

Ma 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, Ma was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and from 2002 to 2006 represented District 4, which includes the Central Sunset, Outer Sunset, 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." In her position, she authored the landmark Local Business Enterprise ordinance on behalf of women and minority business owners and passed legislation to tackle human trafficking.

What Ma considers one of her most important legislative wins something she hopes will become part of her lifetime legacy is helping to protect the nation children. The years-long effort, which culminated in federal law enacted in 2009, bans phthalates, which are known to be toxic, from toys.

In the November 2006, 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 and contains some 420,000 constituents. Ma soon was off to Sacramento as an assemblywoman, one of eighty members of the California Assembly. She got off to an auspicious start  when 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.

Ma was the first Asian American woman to become Speaker pro Tempore of the State Assembly. As presiding officer and member of the leadership team, she ran the daily business of the assembly, responds to parliamentary inquiries, issues rulings on points of order when necessary, and was responsible for guiding legislative priorities.

Ma believes that her education is one of the many things that will make her a better candidate. With her accounting and tax degrees, she staffed her own state legislative committees so she didn't have to rely on others to interpret data. Getting them firsthand made for better-informed decisions. "I was far more familiar with the practice and laws than aides, so it was more efficient and effective," she explains. Golden Gate University was fortunate to have Ma deliver a commencement address and share her story of knowledgeable leadership.

Ma represented more than nine million Californians on the California State Board of Equalization, and is one of the few CPAs to have served on the Board in its history. In November 2018, she was elected to the office of California State Treasurer.