Karen Mills, the former Maine venture capitalist who became U.S. Small Business Administration chief shortly after President Obama took office in 2009, is leaving her post in August to work at Harvard. Small-business experts and owners are now eager to find out who will replace her.
The ideal qualities and expertise of an SBA leader have been long-debated. Should it be someone with years’ experience running a small business? Should she or he hail from corporate America and understand what it takes to manage a large, complex organization? Or should it be someone in the funding community who understands the needs of high-growth start-ups. (Lending, after all, is a key SBA role.)
Obama clearly chose the financing expert when he picked Mills, as she didn’t have experience running a business. “I asked Karen to lead the Small Business Administration because I knew she had the skills and experience to help America’s small businesses recover from the worst economic crisis in generations — and that’s exactly what she’s done,” President Obama wrote in a statement in February, when Mills first announced her departure.
Mills has been credited during her SBA tenure for helping to streamline SBA lending to small businesses in the aftermath of the recession, as well as helping to jump-start U.S. entrepreneurship. At the same time, the SBA has taken flack under Mills’ leadership, including most recently for its slowness in processing SBA disaster loans after Hurricane Sandy, its emphasis on not-so-small “small” businesses and the federal government’s failure to meet small-business contracting goals. The economic climate and needs of small businesses have changed over the past four years—should the type of SBA Administrator change, too?
Many people on Capitol Hill think the president should select a candidate “who would add some diversity” to his cabinet, according to The Washington Post. Few actual names have been floated as possible successors. However, Entrepreneur.com recently profiled three potential strong candidates: Judy Canales, state executive director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency in Texas; Kurt Chilcott, president and CEO of a San Diego-based community development corporation; and Don Graves, executive director of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness at the White House.
Small business columnist Rhonda Abrams laid out seven key qualities she believes the next SBA head should possess, including “a louder voice in government regulations” and “an experienced small business owner.”
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