As part of our 2019 salute to women in leadership, we feature seven of the Capital Region’s most relevant and successful women leaders — here’s one of them.
Executive Officer, Franchise Tax Board of California
For the past 13 years, Selvi Stanislaus has headed the second-largest tax department in the nation. As the first woman to lead California’s Franchise Tax Board, she oversees more than 6,000 employees and roughly three-quarters of the state’s general fund revenue.
“That’s money that goes to pay for services that all Californians enjoy, and it’s an awesome responsibility that often keeps me up at night,” Stanislaus says.
The lessons she learned from her family, a long line of public servants, has fueled her passion to help others — dating back to her childhood in Sri Lanka, when she would help her father, an accountant, complete tax returns pro bono for members of the community. She would grow up to attend law school and work in the Chambers of Sri Lanka’s President’s Counsel.
In 1983, Stanislaus was caught in the middle of a violent ethnic conflict that sparked a civil war in Sri Lanka. During the insurgency, many of the homes on her street were burned. She immigrated to the U.S. with her husband in 1986 to escape the race riots. “We were drawn to the United States by the promise of freedom and opportunity,” she says. “I’m grateful for this country and for the life we have created here.”
Once in California, she completed her juris doctorate at Lincoln Law School of Sacramento, earning a secondary degree in tax law from McGeorge School of Law. After working briefly in the private sector, she joined the State as the acting assistant chief counsel for the Board of Equalization’s five-member board on California’s tax and fee programs. She was appointed to her current position in 2006.
Stanislaus works with a nine-member executive team that oversees the FTB’s governance structure, which includes filing, auditing and technology. Decisions are reached by consensus and based on the department’s best interest.
“I like to think that the structure at FTB is flat, instead of top-down. In other words, when we all sit around the table, I believe each person speaks with equal weight,” says Stanislaus, adding that the strongest leaders are those who have a desire to see others succeed. “Those are the types of individuals I want on my leadership team.”
Her team is currently working on the second phase of a three-phase rollout, updating FTB’s technology to function more efficiently by expanding document imaging, eliminating paper and re-engineering how tax returns are processed.
Words of Wisdom:Find your passion and then find a way to make it work for you.
In 2006, Stanislaus received the IRS Commissioner’s Award for her work in federal and state initiatives. She was also recognized as one of the nation’s Doers, Dreamers and Drivers by Government Technology magazine in 2011.
“I’m proud to be the first woman to lead the Franchise Tax Board, but that’s not what drives me to do the job each day,” she says. “Instead, I’m determined to find new ways to better serve the people of California. I never forget who I ultimately answer to: the citizens of our state.”