Monday, February 09, 2009
Here’s one to watch
|We’ve got a new administration and a badly broken economy and – to me – keeping track of it all is overwhelming. I want to understand. I want to know what kinds of triggers, risks and rewards to anticipate as our country wades into untested waters, but it’s just plain information overload! So, I’m picking and choosing who and what I pay attention to. If you share my frustration, you’re probably filtering, too.
As far as the cabinet and other key federal appointments go – I’ve honed in on Karen Mills. Not yet a widely recognized name, my bet is Mills will end up a darling of the administration: a nonpartisan visionary and implementer who’ll be sought after for even higher public or private office. Who is Mills? She’s President Barack Obama’s choice to head up the Small Business Administration (SBA). Why is she on my radar? Because as a small business owner, as an adviser to other small business owners and as president of the Orange County chapter of NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners), this is where I live.
I’m excited about Karen Mills for two reasons: She’s got a wonderfully diverse background and track record (ranging from parents who majority-own and run Tootsie Roll Industries to founding a private equity firm with two other women), and she “gets” what it takes to wake up the long-slumbering SBA and shape it into the job-generating, entrepreneurship-fostering innovation engine that it ought to be.
More advanced Mills-watchers have observed that she appreciates the vast differences among small businesses, as in the Facebook-like start-up vs. the new dry cleaner on Main Street. She’ll likely position the SBA to not only reinstate small business access to short-term credit, but also dust off (or create from scratch) some SBA mechanisms to stimulate venture capital. Hallelujah!
The icing on the cake is that Mills is keenly aware that the SBA has failed to meet its mandate to ensure at least 5 percent of government contracts go to women-owned companies.
Yet to be confirmed, Karen Mills is on my watch list, and if you’re in any way associated with a business under $50 million in annual revenue, then she should be on yours, too. There’s a lot to be scared about in this economy; but there are nuggets of hope – like this SBA appointment – that should keep us forward-focused. Karen Mills has the potential to be a true game-changer. I’ll be watching closely and doing everything I can to support her efforts.