Sylvia Mathews Burwell smiling to someone talking to her off camera

The White House budget director and West Virginia native navigates the murky waters of finance and the future.


Originally published in West Virginia Focus magazine

She’s solved perhaps the most serious crisis facing our country since the Great Depression—the government shutdown of 2013. “The government shutdown was avoidable and it is clear why this type of self-inflicted wound should not occur again,” says Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Hinton native and director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). “It inflicted completely unnecessary damage on our economy and took a toll on families and businesses in West Virginia and across the country.”

In her career she has solved problems big and small—as past president of the Walmart Foundation, former president of the Global Development Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and even as deputy director and deputy chief of staff to the president during the Clinton Administration. The Harvard and Oxford alum seems to have always had a knack for problem-solving and recently shared with us her thoughts on West Virginia’s strengths and weaknesses and her own ability to get things done.

 1. West Virginia’s Strengths

West Virginia’s most important assets are its natural resources that range from its people to its incredible beauty. Harnessing the power of those resources to the fullest extent possible to promote economic growth is a challenge, but it’s important to the state. I have a large map of my home state in my office at OMB so people know how proud I am to be a West Virginian.

2. Advice to Small Businesses

You have a friend in President Obama. He is committed to a strategy that will strengthen the economic recovery, create jobs, and help small businesses in West Virginia and across America grow and prosper.

Over the past five years, the president has cut taxes for small businesses 18 times. The Small Business Administration, with 27 offices across the state, is a great resource for West Virginia entrepreneurs and small business owners, offering loan guarantees, advice, and support to attract new businesses and help our neighborhood stores thrive.

3. Getting Things Done

I strive to deliver impact, no matter the size of the problem. I start by asking and answering the question, what does success look like? By clearly defining the outcome you can chart a path to success. One reason I am attracted to trying to solve big problems and working toward positive change is my West Virginia roots. In Hinton, my hometown, folks worked together to respond to needs and drive change. Whether it was collecting money in the neighborhood for flowers when a neighbor’s relative passed or trick-or-treating for UNICEF to help less fortunate children around the world, I grew up in a place that instilled the important value of service to others.

Written by Laura Wilcox Rote