Executive Director of the California Franchise Tax Board
Tell us something that most people might not know about you and how that has shaped you as a leader.
A: I grew up in Sri Lanka.
I came from a large faith-filled extended family, all of whom are all extremely dedicated to making a positive difference in this world. My father was an accountant who worked long hours to serve his clients and to help those who could not afford his services. I remember vividly sitting on his knee as he talked about the people in the community that he cared for so deeply. He would tell me, “Selvi, without vision, the people perish.” In other words, unless you show them what can be, they will always settle for what is. His words resonated in my early years as I decided on a vision for my own life. I knew it would be centered around service to others and because of my father, I suppose it’s not surprising that I saw myself serving through the law profession. At FTB, I serve our Board and California taxpayers by cultivating an environment that recognizes and rewards excellence and innovation. But I am also pushing staff to see a vision of where that excellence and innovation can take us. Otherwise people forget what they are working so hard for.
Like many Americans, I learned about leadership and teamwork from athletics. In grade school through high school, I ran track and even had dreams of representing Sri Lanka in the Olympics. The lessons I learned are invaluable. Succeeding in sports requires the same traits it takes to succeed in the business world – vision, an eye on the goal, great coaching, a desire to be the best, and most importantly, teamwork.
As FTB’s executive officer, I must ensure my team has the best training, coaching, and tools to serve more than 15 million California taxpayers. It’s an awesome responsibility and one I relish.
It can be as grueling as running against the wind or as rewarding as winning the race. When my employees win, I win.
What quality do you value most in your management team?
A: If I had to name just one quality it would be loyalty. Not so much loyalty to me as a person but rather to the things I highly value: Like doing the right thing and valuing all employees regardless of their classification. To me, loyalty encompasses trust, reliability, and faithfulness to an ideal. I am very fortunate to find this quality in my management team. I can rely on them to tell me what I need to know, even when it’s hard. And they are passionately faithful to the ideal of making FTB the very best department in state government. They proactively look out for my interests by maintaining strong relationships with our overseers, providing excellent services, and by valuing the employees who make all that happen.
Loyalty also benefits the taxpayer as there is an unspoken fiduciary duty to being the “taxman.” It is vital we protect the financial information each and every taxpayer shares with us. Being loyal to our mission, which is administering the tax code fairly, requires the same trust, faithfulness and loyalty I expect in my management team.
We are very good at what we do because of this kind of dedication, day in and day out.
This interview with Selvi Stanislaus was conducted December 12, 2012 and has been edited and condensed.