sábado, 2 de enero de 2010

Profile of a Woman of Strength: Theresa Alvillar-Speake

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Photo taken in August 2009 at the MBDA/SBA awards ceremony when Theresa was honored for her leadership.


Theresa Alvillar-Speake is the former Director of the Office of Minority Economic Impact and Diversity at the U.S. Department of Energy (August of 2001-January 2009). Ms. Speake was the first Hispanic ever to head that office. In that position, she provided guidance and direction to the Secretary of Energy on the impact of energy policies, procedures and programs on minorities, minority institutions and minority businesses, and also on policy development and program implementation in the area of Small and Small Disadvantaged Business Utilization and Civil Rights. As Director, Mrs. Speake was responsible for providing agency support to minority educational institutions, minority banks and for promoting diversity within the agency and its contractors.

Prior to the Department of Energy, Ms. Speake worked with the government of the State of California in different capacities, including Director of the Office of Small and Disabled Veteran Business of the Department of Transportation; Director of the Business Outreach Office of the Employment Development Department; and Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity in the Office of the Governor.

Ms. Speake has been involved in the area of small and minority business development since the late seventies. She founded and operated a non-profit organization established to assist small and minority businesses (NEDA San Joaquin Valley) from 1981 through 1997. During this period of time, thousands of individuals and businesses were assisted in their efforts to achieve the American dream of business ownership. She has been recognized by both the U.S. Small Business Administration and the U.S. Department of Commerce as a Minority Business Advocate as well as the State of California as a Woman Business Advocate.

Ms. Speake holds a bachelor of business administration from California State University (Fresno) and an MBA from Golden Gate University in Sacramento, California. In 2003, she was identified by Hispanic Magazine as one of the Top 100 Latinas in the country. She attended the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 2004.


Ms. Speake has been a source of inspiration as I explored the possibilities of working for the government assisting minority business enterprises. Her disposition to mentor others offers an immense learning opportunity for students, interns, and young professionals. In my case, she has provided professional advise and valuable insights.

Ms. Speake began her career with the government through several appointments starting in California when she was appointed to direct the Office of Economic Opportunity. As she explains, that office was responsible for many low-income programs available for energy related assistance such as the weatherization of homes and the energy crisis program that provided funding for folks unable to pay for their utility bills. She later worked for the State of California and other positions at the federal level. Only one of those jobs was a career position; the rest were all appointment jobs that rose/fell depending on the party in power. She was appointed to Director by former President Bush and was confirmed by the Senate in 2001. She graciously resigned after President Obama took office.

Ms. Speake describes her mentors as follows: “My first mentor was my grandmother who, although had not gone to school at all and could not read or write English (or for that matter Spanish), did not let that stop her from starting her own business selling Mexican food products first from her vehicle and from orders, and then opening up a restaurant. She was a hard worker and taught us that we could do whatever we wanted to do. I also had a boss (attorney) who had total faith and belief in me and encouraged me to go on to school and to take on challenges.”

Ms. Speake became a champion for minority and women owned businesses in 1972, when she was hired by a non-profit organization whose sole purpose was to provide management and technical assistance to minority individuals/businesses. After working for them for 8 years, in December of 1980 the firm closed down its operations and she started her own nonprofit organization in order to continue to provide services to small/minority businesses. The joy of knowing that she has been able to assist hundreds of individuals and firms with their American dream of entrepreneurship has kept her going.

Ms. Speake provides sound advise to Entrepreneurs, specifically for individuals wanting to start a business: “to ensure that there is a need for whatever product or service they want to provide, to learn about all the available resources and take advantage of them. It is usually a good idea for them to have worked in the field they want to start their business.”


When I asked Ms. Speake what was the most and least rewarding aspects of her job as Director of the Minority Economic Impact and Diversity at the Department of Energy, she replied that the least rewarding aspects of the job are having to constantly fight the stereotype that small/minority business cannot do the job. The best aspect is that, given the right support and placement, small/minority business can do the job and can do it at a lesser cost and with a quicker turnaround time.”

Ms. Speake shared one of her success stories: Her department was required to submit goals to the SBA and every program office was required to have individual program goals. One of the program offices was pushing back on the premise that small/minority firms could not do security work and she was able to get the Deputy Secretary to back her when the refusal to provide goals for his program came into play. This support to her and the overall program set the tone for the rest of the program offices and made her job easier. More importantly, it opened doors and validated her position that small/minority firms can deliver.


At the present time, Ms. Speake serves in the boards of LULAC, MANA, and RNHA and was just elected to serve as the State Secretary for LULAC/DC. She wants to continue to be an advocate for small/minority businesses whether in a paid or volunteer position. She has the ability to assist in providing access to the program/procurement staff of small/minority firms. She is sharing her knowledge and strength.