How Linda McMahon Will Wrestle With the SBA

Dec 07, 2016

Donald Trump has thought way outside the box in his choice to head up the Small Business Administration.

On Wednesday, he announced he had chosen Linda McMahon, co-founder of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and wife of Vince McMahon, chairman and CEO of WWE.

"Linda has a tremendous background and is widely recognized as one of the country’s top female executives advising businesses around the globe," Trump said in a statement . He cited McMahon’s qualifications, which include building the WWE into a publicly traded organization of 800 employees from 13.

McMahon, 68, ran unsuccessfully for Senate on the Republican ticket for Connecticut in 2010 and 2012 and reportedly helped raise $6 million for Trump. The two have known each other a long time: Trump has appeared on WWE several times over the years and is a member of its Hall of Fame.

"I am honored to join the incredibly impressive economic team that President-elect Trump has assembled to ensure that we promote our country’s small businesses and help them grow and thrive,” McMahon said in accepting the nomination, according to a statement.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that McMahon had met privately with the President-elect at Trump Tower.

Related: Trump's Tuesday Cabinet Picks: Steven Mnuchin, Elaine Chao, and Tom Price

Entrepreneurship experts say the biggest challenge facing the SBA head will be keeping small business top of mind in the new administration, as well as making sure small-business owners have adequate access to capital. The SBA has a loan portfolio of $124 billion including its flagship 7(a) and 504 loans. That financing, plus its counseling, educational and technical assistance, are valuable supports. Yet McMahon’s experience is a significant departure from the prior two administrators. The SBA’s current head, Maria Contreras-Sweet, is a former entrepreneur and transportation and housing secretary for the state of California. She has made boosting lending and outreach to minority entrepreneurs a priority during her tenure.

Karen Mills, who preceded Contreras-Sweet, was formerly president of private equity firm Solera Capital, and a product manager for General Foods who served as a director of numerous companies, including Arrow Electronics (ARW) and Scotts Miracle-Gro. Under Mills’ tenure, the SBA was elevated to a cabinet position.

Mills, now a senior fellow at Harvard University, applauded Trump’s choice. “ I was glad to see the administration keep the SBA a cabinet-level position and recognize that small businesses need someone at the table who knows what it takes to grow and run a small business,” she told Fortune in an email. “Small business needs to keep a strong voice on the White House economic team so they can continue to have the tools they need to grow and create jobs.”

Related: Donald Trump Taps WWE Co-Founder Linda McMahon to Lead Small Business Administration

Small-business advocacy group Small Business Majority (SBM) is circumspect on the pick.

“While we would have liked to see someone nominated who has more direct small business experience, we hope Linda McMahon will play a strong role advocating for the needs of small businesses in the new administration,” said John Arensmeyer, the SBM’s founder. “We would like to see her continue the good work of Maria Contreras-Sweet and Karen Mills to help get more capital and resources to our nation's entrepreneurs, particularly women and minority-small business owners.”

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