DRIVEN TO SUCCEED: Jean Shiomoto leads California’s massive Department of Motor Vehicles


Jean Shiomoto. photo courtesy of California Department of Motor Vehicles

Jean Shiomoto. photo courtesy of California Department of Motor Vehicles
Jean Shiomoto. photo courtesy of California Department of Motor Vehicles

Editor’s Note: The following article was originally published in Currents, an Asian Pacific American community newspaper that serves the Sacramento, Calif. area.

SACRAMENTO — In a crowded coffee house in the Greenhaven-Pocket area of South Sacramento, I met with Jean Shiomoto, who was recently appointed by Governor Jerry Brown to serve as the director of the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). “I was honored and humbled to get the call,” recalls Shiomoto. “As a female and Japanese American, I understand the significance of the appointment.”

The DMV is viewed as the face of state government. California residents have more direct contact with the DMV than any other single state department. Each year, the DMV handles nearly 28 million customer transactions for driver license and vehicle registration renewals.

In addition, the DMV issues identification cards for non-drivers, maintains driving records, tracks ownership of vehicles and vessels, promotes driver safety, licenses car dealers, driver and traffic schools, investigates auto and identify-related fraud, and collects revenue. The department has approximately 8,200 employees in 234 offices throughout California, and has an annual operational budget of nearly $1 billion.

She credits retired DMV Director George Valverde in preparing, guiding and mentoring her for five months before his retirement. “We went everywhere together,” Shiomoto fondly recalls. “On my second day as chief deputy director, I had to give a speech at a press conference in George’s absence. He trusted me and I knew that I was capable of doing the job.”

The speech she gave on April 2, 2012, was to celebrate the collaborative partnership between the DMV and Donate Life California. They were celebrating 9 million organ and tissue donors on the registry, added through drivers’ license registrations. This April 2014, the collaboration is on track to have 11 million donors on the registry — the largest registry in the country.

Since Shiomoto was the acting director for a year since Valverde’s retirement, she admitted that her interest was peaked at the possibilities of becoming the DMV director. She explained, “I was leading the department as chief deputy and acting director, I was motivated by knowing that I could and was proactively working to promote the mission, vision and goals of the department with our control agencies, our external partners, stakeholders and our employees. As director, I want to continue the strategic vision for the department as well as continue performance measurement and encouraging DMV staff to excel as leaders.”

Committed to the DMV, Customers
When Shiomoto speaks about the DMV, her face lights up and one can clearly see and feel the passion and commitment she has for the department, its mission and goals. One of her priorities as director is to convert the department forms and letters to lay language — to make them easier to read and understand for the general public. She explained, “People don’t understand what ‘financial responsibility’ means. We know it means ‘insurance.’ We need to use language our customers understand.”

She also wants to put more services online for customers. While these projects sound overwhelming to us, she said that they are very doable. “Today’s DMV customers expect a superior online experience that is simple to use and easy to understand.

Customers are embracing today’s technology and using mobile devices to access information, make purchases, and connect with social networks. The DMV will continue to redefine the customer experience by offering convenient, innovative, and virtual service options,” Shiomoto explained.

Shiomoto talked of the recent publicity associated with the project to modernize the computer system that manages the driver license and vehicle registration process. “An independent assessment is underway on the project, and the recommendations will
guide the DMV on the next steps for completing the modernization effort. It’s important to note that the modernization project to revamp the front end of the driver license system has been completed, and is fully functional and operational in all DMV field offices,” she explained.

One of the major projects for the DMV is the implementation of a program for driver licenses for undocumented immigrants, as a result of the passage of Assembly Bill 60. “We estimate that 1.4 million customers will come through our doors over a three-year period. It’s a lot of work but we are confident we can handle it,” she said.

California is leading the way in autonomous vehicles. For the past year, the DMV has been developing testing regulations as mandated by Senate Bill 1298. The regulations include requirements for testing vehicles, insurance, reporting and registration. In addition to the recently-released testing regulations for public comment, the DMV is working on regulations that will cover the public operation of self-driving cars in California by January 2015.

Shiomoto spoke of the commitment demonstrated by the staff of the department. She also talked about the department’s culture and sense of family. “The environment of DMV is inviting to state employees,” she said. “The DMV is a family, not a lot of people know that. We are more than drivers’ licenses and vehicle registrations. The people at the DMV are inviting; they rally around each other. Our camaraderie is paramount.” In addition, DMV supports March of Dimes, United Way, and other charitable giving organizations.

Courtland, Calif. Roots
She describes herself as a hard worker and dedicated employee. She credits her strong work ethic from her upbringing. She grew up on an 80-acre pear ranch on Grand Island on the Steamboat Slough, near Courtland, Calif. Her father’s family was from Courtland.

During World War II, her father, Charlie Fujii, was an Army sergeant who trained recruits of the … 442nd Regimental Combat Team at Camp Shelby, Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Her mother’s family (the Udas) were from Loomis and Perkins, Calif.

Both the Fujiis and the Udas were incarcerated at the Granada (Amache) concentration camp in Colorado. After the war, the Udas moved to Idaho, and the Fujiis returned to Courtland. She is a graduate of Delta High School in Clarksburg. After her father’s death, her family moved to the Greenhaven area in South Sacramento.

Shiomoto received her bachelor’s degree from California State University, Sacramento, in business administration with a concentration in accounting. “During my senior year in high school, I decided I wanted to be an accountant. I figured that businesses would need skilled staff and it would be relatively easy to find a job when I graduated from college,” she recalls. Her daughter, Denise, currently attending California State University, Fullerton, is following in her mother’s footsteps, also majoring in business administration, but with a concentration in marketing.

Service to the State
Shiomoto began her state career as an auditor at the Department of Developmental Services in 1980. When she started working for the state, she wanted to apply herself, learn from others, establish herself as an accountant, and achieve a management position. Her passion for analysis moved her from accounting, audits, and validation of journal entries, to the design and specification of financial systems to solve fiscal problems. This is where she found what would turn out to be her life-long and career-changing passion — a passion she has held throughout her state service.

During her 34 years in state government, Shiomoto has served in multiple positions at the California Department of General Services from 1980 to 1988, including fiscal systems manager, systems development analyst and auditor. After eight years at the California Department of General Services and the Franchise Tax Board, she has worked for the DMV, in a number of increasingly responsible positions. These include systems development manager, cost accounting manager, controller, advisor to the director and chief deputy director, chief financial officer, deputy director, and chief of operations (DMV’s equivalent to chief deputy director).

While the DMV is strongly linked to community and charitable projects, Shiomoto has made community involvement a personal priority as well. For the last six years, she has served on the board of directors of Asian Community Center of Sacramento Valley (ACC), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with an operating budget of $18 million. The ACC is open to people of all ages who can benefit from the programs and services that help older residents. Core programs and services include the ACC Nursing Home, ACC Senior Services, ACC Greenhaven Terrace Independent Living, and Meals on Wheels by ACC. She is completing her second year as the president of the board. During her tenure on the board, Shiomoto has served as chair of the Audit Committee, Board Development Committee, Executive Committee and has actively supported all ACC fundraisers.

“I’m beginning my second year as board president and final year on the board. As president, I want to continue to promote and enhance the array of services offered by ACC Senior Services. The ACC is on track to open 24 assisted living units at Greenhaven Terrace in 2014, which further enhances ACC’s mission of providing for a continuum of care. ACC’s capital campaign is well underway and this year, we will be reaching out into the community to share the strategic vision of ACC, our accomplishments, and our commitments to develop and meet the changing needs of the community,” Shiomoto explained.

She began by volunteering on the ACC finance committee, a year before she joined the board of directors. When asked what about ACC attracted her, she said, “It was time for me to give back to the community. I am thankful for what I have, and for the services ACC provides. When my mom was ill, we scrambled to locate services to support mom. The ACC nursing home was just getting started — there was no rides program or respite program. If my mom were alive today, she would be using ACC services.”

Donna Yee, Ph.D., ACC’s chief executive officer commented, “Jean’s visionary leadership and innovative ideas have resulted in enhancements in ACC fundraising efforts, increasing our bottom line. We are proud and honored to have Jean guide the ACC into our next major capital campaign to establish an assisted living program. Her passion and commitment to ACC will no doubt parallel her longstanding career at the DMV. The ACC congratulates Jean on her appointment.”

When asked how she balances her work life and her home life, Shiomoto quickly responded, “I have a very supportive and understanding husband and family. Their support has been the key to my success at DMV.” Her husband, David, recently retired from the Franchise Tax Board.

“I dedicate the time required to do my job, but I also find time to enjoy a nice dinner with family and friends. I like to try out new restaurants, travel, and bake,” she added. She handles job pressures in the same way she speaks; deliberately, handling one issue at a time. She relaxes with her nightly walks with David and two sibling dogs, Puddles and Trouble, basset hound and Bichon Frise mix.

Asian-Pacific State Employees
Shiomoto is also an active member of the Asian-Pacific State Employees Association (APSEA), a statewide organization that advocates for members’ interests and works with the community to promote career opportunities, cultural awareness, supports young adults in career advancements through the APSEA Foundation by sponsoring scholarships, supporting other Asian Pacific community-based organizations, hosting training conferences, and networking activities.

She joined APSEA more than 10 years ago, serving on the scholarship committee even before she joined the organization. “There were about 80 applications the first year I was on the Scholarship Committee. The students all had great ideas of what they want to do. However, when we ask who was their role model, the students become more emotional — they talk about their parents, their upbringing, that they will be the first person in their family to attend college. You understand what the scholarship will do for them. Each student’s story is moving — you can see their dedication and commitment.”

She continues to serve on the scholarship committee each year and finds APSEA membership very rewarding. Through APSEA’s workshops, leadership seminars, and networking events, she has met other APIs in state service. “I am grateful for APSEA in providing opportunities for members to network and meet APIs from other state agencies, to exchange ideas on solving common problems. To obtain a different perspective from that of your department is invaluable in seeing how organizations are run,” Shiomoto explained.

Jeff Uyeda, APSEA president, commented on Shiomoto’s appointment: “The DMV director is one of the highest offices in state government. Jean’s appointment is a terrific professional achievement, but in a larger sense it provides an exceptional professional role model for ambitious Asian Pacific Islanders that they too — with intelligence, hard work, and sacrifice — can make it to the top levels of a large state department.”

Shiomoto encourages state employees to join organizations like APSEA and to become involved. She explained further, “Volunteer to be on a committee or to become an officer; this will enhance your leadership and management skills. Promote the mission and vision of your department. Be willing to take on challenges, be collaborative, and be visionary. Always network when presented the opportunity.” Her “call to action” to other employees is part of her mantra and her personal core values that she has followed throughout her career with the state.

‘Pushing’ Yourself Out of Complacency
She suggests to younger state employees to consider setting time frames on how long to stay at each position. “Move on after three or four years,” she explained. “Do something different. When you get comfortable in a job, it’s time to move on.”
She credits a mentor for this approach, which has proven key to her successes at DMV. She also suggests that employees should find guidance from others.

“Find a good mentor who will push you, because without the ‘push’, you won’t want to get out of your comfort zone.” As she puts, “You get complacent in one job after a few years. You need to push yourself and strive for new challenges. That’s the way to be successful.”

She said that while she had been passed over for promotional opportunities, she used these rejections to motivate her to continue to excel, work hard, and exceed management expectations.

Her final suggestion to state employees is to look at each job and manager as an opportunity for learning and growth. Shiomoto said, “You can’t pick your manager; you can learn from every manager — even the ones who are tougher to work for.”

Over the years, Shiomoto has demonstrated her passion, dedication, and commitment to the DMV, her family, and the greater community. Her contributions to all continue, and she has been and will continue to be a leader and asset to all— the DMV is in good hands.

Lorna M. Fong is a retired state employee.v

2 responses to “DRIVEN TO SUCCEED: Jean Shiomoto leads California’s massive Department of Motor Vehicles”

  1. Carl Banks Jr. Avatar

    Dear Lorna M. Fong,
    Thank you for your wonderful article written about Director Jean Shiomoto!
    My name is Carl Banks Jr. I am a Vietnam Veteran who has an honorable discharge.
    I have a problem with the Department of Motor Vehicles and the dealership where I
    bought my new car. This is an issue that Director Jean Shiomoto could address if she
    chose to handle this issue. Should I write her or email her or call her on the telephone?
    Lorna, will Jean Shiomoto see this letter that I am writing to you?
    I do not know how many other people have this same issue but it needs to be resolved
    by Jean and here team! I will write Jean and share this issue with her! Thank you very much!
    Carl Banks Jr., Vietnam Veteran

  2. Carl Banks Jr. Avatar

    Dear Director Jean Shiomoto,
    Thank you for all the good work that you do. I truly hope that you can help me resolve this issue
    that I am having with DMV and the car dealership that sold me my car!
    I will write you a letter and explain to you what happened to me and request your
    expertise to help me resolve this frustrating matter?
    Thank you very much!
    Carl Banks Jr., Vietnam Veteran

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