Sylvia Garcia (LAS MS ’06) never planned to be a chief financial officer. She never thought she’d leave Chicago, either. But when she was named a Presidential Management Fellow, a program that allows participants to learn and work in the federal government, the opportunity was too good to pass up. Garcia left for Washington, D.C., planning to return to Chicago upon completing the two-year program, but when the fellowship ended, doors opened. She worked with the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and eventually as chief financial officer and assistant secretary for budget for the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).
“I loved math, but careerwise I was focused on public policy,” she says. “When I participated in the fellowship, my boss said, ‘If you don’t know how the money works, there’s no way to make great ideas happen.’ That stuck with me and put me on a new path.”
Garcia was 31 when she became CFO of the DOT in 2012. Among her responsibilities was managing the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program, which, under Garcia’s leadership, provided 25 loans amounting to $11.5 billion for projects such as the Chicago Riverwalk. TIFIA covers up to 33 percent of each project total and resulted in $37 billion of infrastructure investment nationwide during Garcia’s tenure.
“It was a great accomplishment,” she says. “Getting to know the projects, seeing their direct impact and being a small part of it was amazing.”
After 2½ years as CFO, more than four years with the DOT and nearly 10 in D.C., Garcia was ready to return to Chicago. The timing was right; the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) needed a chief operating officer, and she was very qualified for the job. She started work on June 15.
“With the CTA, I get to see the impact of my work every day,” she says. “If we don’t do our jobs, people don’t make it to work or to school or home to their kids at night. It’s exciting to be back in Chicago and part of something that’s integral to the city. It’s meaningful work.”