02/06/2015 04:41 pm ET Updated Apr 08, 2015

Maria Contreras-Sweet on Running the Small Business Administration

Maria Contreras-Sweet, who came to the United States from Mexico as a child, is the administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA), a post she assumed after a career as an entrepreneur, business executive and state Cabinet official in California.

In this interview, Contreras-Sweet discusses her approach to leading the SBA and explains how her immigrant background shaped her outlook on public service. The conversation is with me, a guest writer for On Leadership and the vice president for leadership and innovation at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. I am also the head of the organization's Center for Government Leadership.

The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Q. You were born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and came to the United States at age 5 with your mother and five siblings. You watched your mother work long and dangerous hours in a chicken-packaging plant. How did this upbringing shape you?

A. One of the things about immigrants is that we don't take things for granted. When you come from another country that doesn't offer you that same level of opportunity, you really appreciate these gifts, and you want to engage and be a part of it. I want to eke everything out of every single day.

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This post was originally featured on The Washington Post's website.