By Cheih-hsin “Jessie” Lin
UW News Lab
Sheila Burrus and her family arrived in Washington state from Batangas, Philippines, in 1990. She first attended De La Salle, Lipa, and the University of St. Thomas in Philippines. She finished her degree in nursing in Georgia after coming to the United States.
After realizing that nursing wasn’t the right career for her, Burrus moved back to Seattle. She worked at a fast food restaurant, where she was soon recruited by her manager at the restaurant to work at KeyBank, which, in turn, introduced her to the banking industry.
Burrus admits she felt very insecure about the idea. She said to the manager, “I am young, a woman, and I am Asian. How would people respond to me?” She felt she would be a rarity in the banking industry.
The manager, however, reassured her. “He said, ‘You know, that’s not bad at all. That’s actually your asset — you’re young, you are full of energy, you are a woman, you have a different approach to your clients, you are a relationship type of banker, and then you are Asian. That’s very exotic.’ ”
And the manager was right about Burrus. At 21, she became the youngest relationship manager at KeyBank. At 24, she became the youngest personal banker. Both positions allowed her to be familiar with building trust with her clients and advising clients with their financial goal planning.
In 2002, Burrus left KeyBank, where she worked for 15 years, and brought her expertise in finance and banking to State Farm Insurance Co. She believes by making this transition, she is able to reach out to more people in need.
“I get to help people,” Burrus said.
“In the community, I know there is always a need for insurance and financial services. I see a lot of people who really just need advice,” she added.
Within two years, Burrus started her own State Farm insurance agency. Recognizing her success, Jeffrey Taylor, her former State Farm employer, attributed it to her tireless efforts toward helping clients.
“She is a great example of hard work and dedication,” said Taylor. “She was really self-motivated and always knew clients by their names. She is one of the most dependable people I have ever worked with. I felt like I could always count on her.”
In 2010, Burrus became president of the Northwest Filipino Chamber of Commerce, as well as an accredited agent of the Philippine Consulate General in San Francisco. She said both positions allow her to use her assets and many connections to better serve the underrepresented population and small businesses in the Filipino community.
“Because we are a smaller chamber of commerce, we help each other out by referrals,” said Burrus. “I know that I cannot serve everybody. But sometimes, when their needs do not meet our criteria, I am able to connect and do business matching.”
As an accredited agent, she helps cut through bureaucratic red tape. “People, especially older folks, come to me asking for help with paperwork that’s going to the Philippines.
Having me being here, they don’t have to go to San Francisco, and that eliminates them having to jump through a lot of hoops.”
In addition to the business community, Burrus is active in community service. She often takes the initiative to leave her comfort zone and do whatever she can to help, said Dori Fajardo, her colleague at the Filipino Chamber of Commerce.
Fajardo mentioned a member of her church who was having challenges with immigration paperwork and needed to consult with an immigration lawyer immediately who happened to be visiting Seattle at the time.
“Sheila did not even know this person,” said Fajardo, but she “used her connection for our church member to get in touch with this immigration lawyer. The fact that she went out of her way and did the necessary communication gave the person at least the opportunity to meet with the lawyer.”
Burris is also involved in numerous community activities. She’s a board member of Filipino Community of Seattle and a Parent Advisory Council member for Seattle Public Schools. She was also a founding committee member of the “Celebrate Asia!” event in 2009 and 2010. Burrus believes she was “blessed by a lot of people” and “there is more work to be done.”
Daniel Losk of State Farm said Burrus’ story could inspire many young entrepreneurs in the community.
“Sheila is one of those people when you need to do something, she’s there for you,” said Losk. “Sheila is a very successful person. … She in turn gives other people the opportunity to also be successful.” ♦
Cheih-hsin Lin is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.