(Photo by Terence Duffy)

Women in Leadership: Gloria Salazar

Our annual salute to extraordinary women breaking barriers and rising to the top

Back Article Mar 17, 2022 By Jennifer Fergesen

Gloria Salazar

Former CEO, San Joaquin Regional Transit District

As CEO of San Joaquin Regional Transit District, an agency that provides public transportation for the Stockton metropolitan area, Gloria Salazar started her orientation for new employees with a prompt.

“Pretend this is the first day of the job for your daughter, your sister,” she would tell them, as they planned bus routes and managed service. “We need to be on time, we need to be reliable, we need to be frequent, so that they’re not going to be late for their first interview, they’re not going to be late for their first day on the job, they’re not going to be late for their medical appointments.” 

This exercise may require a stretch of imagination for most American workers, only 5 percent of whom commute by public transportation, but it’s a familiar reality for Salazar, who grew up in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. Seventy percent of the metropolis’s 13.5 million inhabitants rely on public transportation for their daily needs. She remembers taking jeepneys (crowded public vehicles based on World War II military jeeps) to high school (where she graduated valedictorian) and college (magna cum laude). 

After passing the certified public accountant board exam, Salazar worked at the Philippines’ largest accounting firm, SyCip Gorres Velayo & Company, and at the Central Bank of the Philippines, the country’s equivalent of the Federal Reserve. Despite her experience, her CPA license was not valid in the United States, so she had to pass another board exam after moving to California in 1987 as part of the exodus that left the Philippines during the turbulent years after the reign of Ferdinand Marcos. 

Salazar passed the exam while working at Sacramento Regional Transit District, where she began as a professional accountant. On her first day, she says she was “borrowed” by the financial development department, where she ended up remaining for the rest of her time at SacRT. “I think that position really prepared me for this position, because my position then allowed me to know how to develop a budget, write grants, talk to other department managers and be familiar with their operation,” she says. 

Salazar joined San Joaquin RTD in 2002 as assistant general manager on the recommendation of former CEO Donna DeMartino, who had previously worked with Salazar at SacRT. Her title was soon changed to deputy CEO, and she was appointed CEO in January 2020. Early in her 18-year tenure, she launched a financial reporting system that has earned awards from the Government Finance Officers Association for 17 consecutive years. “That’s accomplishment No. 1,” she says. She’s also proud of expanding Van Go!, an on-demand service that has helped fill in the gaps as the agency cut lines and reduced service due to decreases in ridership during and before the pandemic. 

But there is more to improve — service cuts forced some Stockton high school students to remain home even after schools resumed in-person learning, and reduced service to the outer reaches of the metropolitan region have increased their isolation. To help evaluate and meet these needs, San Joaquin RTD launched a study last year called Next Gen. “I’m leaving them with … some guidance on how to proceed and what kind of service they will need to provide as they navigate through the pandemic,” Salazar says. 

With her retirement date set for February 2022, Salazar has only hazy plans for her next chapter — teaching, perhaps, or guest speaking. (Alex Clifford, previously CEO of Santa Cruz Metropolitan District, has been selected as her successor.) She knows she will visit the Philippines more often, where jeepneys still share the streets. “I know there are a lot of opportunities in transit, and I really don’t know where my destiny is going to bring me,” she says. 

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