Sylvia Acevedo’s career started as a rocket scientist at NASA JPL, then as a tech executive at IBM, Apple, and Dell, a White House Commissioner and CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA where she led a focus on STEM with over one million STEM badges earned by girls during her tenure.
She is a Board of Director for Qualcomm, Credo Technologies, Quark.ai, and Ambri Battery. In December 2022, Bloomberg named Sylvia one of the top 100 Influential Latino/a’s. She was In Style’s “Number 7 on the Badass 50: Women Who are Changing the World.” Sylvia has a BSIE from NMSU and an MSIE from Stanford, Honorary Doctorates of Science from Duke University and Washington College. She authored Path to the Stars, a middle school memoir.
What are your wealth journey origins?
Growing up, I knew the rhythm of living paycheck to paycheck all too intimately. Sometimes, even those paychecks weren’t enough to last the month. Such hardships don’t just affect one’s wallet—they shape one's perspective, igniting an unyielding desire for change.
Going to college, I earned engineering degrees, which made me adept with numbers. Yet, the mathematical precision of engineering is a world apart from the nuanced dance of personal finances and wealth creation. Yes, I tried to save, but life, as it often does, threw curveballs. Unexpected crises, reminiscent of my childhood struggles, emptied my savings.
Observing peers around me, enjoying the life I yearned for—beautiful homes, memorable vacations, and smart investments—I realized that I needed to take action to close the gap between where I was and where I aspired to be.
Enter the world of financial education. My understanding deepened with Guy Kawasaki's interpretation of “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” through his engaging game. It instilled in me a simple yet profound truth: we all possess a personal balance sheet, a living ledger that we can nurture and expand through conscious decisions. But my journey wasn’t without its hiccups. In my eagerness, I often stumbled, underestimating the intricate play of market cycles and timing.
Recalling a valuable lesson from my Girl Scout days, I realized that every FAIL is but a First Attempt In Learning. And learn, I did. My ventures had their fair share of blunders, such as overlooking tax strategies while being focused solely on investments. Yet, with every misstep, my financial literacy grew.
Initially, the idea of entrusting others with my financial journey was daunting. But as the adage goes, "If you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room.” Today, I'm proud and grateful to collaborate with seasoned professionals, whose guidance and expertise amplify my efforts.
This isn’t just my story of evolving from scarcity to abundance—it's a testament to resilience, continuous learning, and the transformative power of financial education. I share this journey with the hope that it inspires others to forge their paths toward financial empowerment.
Describe the main milestones, opportunities, and challenges.
Graduating with a Master’s engineering degree from Stanford, I found myself at the epicenter of the technological revolution: Silicon Valley. A place where ideas are as abundant as they are transformative. But the early stages of this journey weren’t without challenges.
Despite the coveted degree, securing a position was a formidable challenge. And when I did find a job, I quickly realized I was a rare presence, being the only Latino/a in my workspace. A blend of gratitude for the opportunity and a steadfast focus on excellence drove me. My approach was simple: excel at my tasks and leave no room for criticism.
However, this laser focus on task execution unintentionally made me myopic to the broader financial trends shaping Silicon Valley. The concept of stock-based compensation was still nascent but gaining traction rapidly. While others were leveraging and negotiating for stock options as part of their remuneration, I failed to communicate my value while negotiating my compensation and missed out on maximizing stock option potential.
Upon realizing the intertwined significance of professional excellence and the potential for wealth through stock accumulation, I recognized that I had overlooked numerous valuable opportunities. When I eventually learned the importance of proactively seeking stock options, I started to lay the foundation of my financial growth, which also meant a fresh set of challenges.
Investment in stocks isn’t merely about owning them. It's about understanding when to exercise and recognizing the various forms of stock grants. My journey had its fair share of costly lessons. The intricacies of timing and the diverse modes of exercising shares became learning opportunities to grow my financial foundation.
As my experience and knowledge continue to grow, I seek advice and cultivate relationships with those well-versed in wealth management. Their guidance is invaluable, shedding light on strategies I previously did not know. Today, I still find solace and wisdom in calling up advisers and friends, richer in experience, for financial advice.
What or Who did you wish you had known earlier?
If I could turn back the hands of time, there's a wealth of knowledge and a chorus of voices I wish had reached my ears sooner. The world of personal finance, with its myriad intricacies and strategies, remained elusive to me in the initial stages of my career.
When stock options graced my compensation for the first time, my naivety led me to perceive them as immediate assets, akin to tangible money in my pocket. I was oblivious to their potential as long-term investments. Terms like "short-term" and "long-term gains" weren’t just financial jargon; they were pivotal concepts that could have reshaped my financial future. I didn’t fully grasp the importance of letting investments mature, of giving them the time to truly appreciate and yield returns.
Risk, often viewed with skepticism, became a lesson I had to grapple with. While risk is inherent in investments, managing it doesn’t mean shying away. It means making informed, calculated decisions, and understanding that sometimes the most significant rewards are a product of such risks. The art of balancing risk and reward isn't just about financial outcomes but aligning them with one's life goals and timeline.
I am grateful that I took the time to be interested and to grow my financial assets. As a result of having savings, I had choices in my career. If a job was untenable, I didn’t have to stay, I could take a risk by pursuing a better opportunity because I was not living paycheck to paycheck. Having a stable financial base allowed me to take risks that paid off in my professional career.
Reflecting on my journey, there are tangible choices I'd make differently. I would have treated stock options as seeds for the future, nurturing them to grow over time. I would have been bolder, asking for more stock-based compensation at every professional turn. Beyond stocks, I would have had a longer timeline with rental real estate, maintaining rental properties to diversify my sources of income, creating a more robust financial cushion.
While hindsight is always 20/20, these reflections serve as a beacon for those beginning their financial journeys. It's a reminder that the realm of personal finance is vast, and while mistakes are a part of the process, informed decisions and timely guidance can make the voyage smoother and more rewarding.
How would you like your wealth legacy to be remembered?
Maya Angelou once said, “When you get, give; when you learn, teach.” These words resonate deeply with the legacy I aspire to leave behind. Wealth, in its essence, isn't just about accumulating assets; it's about the empowerment, choices, and impact that come with it.
Throughout my journey, I've had the privilege to address diverse audiences, from corporate leaders to close-knit employee resource groups. While my talks often touch upon innovation, leadership, and professional evolution, I always emphasize the symbiotic relationship between financial empowerment and professional growth. A strong foundation in personal finance isn’t just about a comfortable life; it’s about the doors it opens, the risks it enables, and the dreams it makes achievable.
It brings me immense joy and pride when those I've advised reach back to share their triumphs—be it securing promotions, negotiating for deserved raises, or understanding the potential of stock options. These aren't just personal victories; they represent the potential for generational wealth, the chance to alter the financial trajectory for families.
My beliefs have always been anchored in empowerment. I uphold the wisdom of equipping individuals with the skills and knowledge to be self-sufficient. It warms my heart to witness the next generation carve their own paths—be it owning homes, pioneering businesses, or ensuring their future with savings. The true testament of wealth isn’t just in its inheritance but in the confidence, autonomy, and ambition it inspires.
Ultimately, when reflecting upon the legacy I wish to be remembered for, it isn't just about the wealth I amassed. It’s about the wisdom I shared, the lives I impacted, and the community I nurtured. My legacy is a testament to dedication, resilience, and the unyielding belief that wealth isn't just personal—it’s communal, and its true power lies in its ability to uplift, empower, and inspire generations.