Monday, December 22, 2008

Getting to know Karen G. Mills, Director (to-be) of the Small Business Administration

President elect Obama announced that he has appointed Karen Gordon Mills to take the top spot at the Small Business Administration (SBA) last week. The fact that he did so a month ahead of schedule is being heralded as a ‘good sign’ because it shows that he is serious about solving the economic problems we are currently facing. Well of course he is. That’s what he signed up for. Here’s hoping that he doesn’t lose his resolve as it relates to small businesses.

I had never heard of Karen Mills and I think that I’m going to be hearing quite a bit more about her so, I did some research. I’m genuinely interested in ‘where’ people come from because I believe you can tell a lot about a person by looking at their history. I did a little digging. Here’s what I found.

Karen Dale Gordon was born in 1950 to Ellen R. and Melvin J. Gordon. She is married to Barry Gordon (an attorney), who graduated in ’72 from Bowdoin College in Biochemistry and Government, got his PhD in biology from Syracuse University (“Cuse – Go Orange”), and got his JD from Columbia Law School in ’79. He is currently the president of Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. They have 3 sons, William, Henry and George. Karen did her undergraduate work at Harvard in Economics in 1975 and got her MBA from Harvard Business School in 1977.

Karen’s father Melvin J. Gordon (88) has been the Chairman of the Board of Tootsie Roll Industries Inc. since 1962 and serves as its Chief Executive officer. Mr. Gordon serves as the President of HDI Investment Corp., a (Gordon) family investment company. He has been a Director of Tootsie Roll Industries Inc. since 1952. He serves as a Director of HDI Investment Corp.

Karen’s mother Ellen R. Gordon (76) has been President of Tootsie Roll Industries Inc. since 1978 and serves as Chief Operating Officer. Her father William Rubin originally bought the company from its founder, Austrian immigrant Leo Hirschfeld, in 1935. Mrs. Gordon is also a Vice President and Director of HDI Investment Corp. Prior to her election as President, Mrs. Gordon served as Senior Vice President of Tootsie Roll. Mrs. Gordon has been a director of Tootsie Roll Industries Inc. since 1969 and is a Member of the Executive Committee. Mrs. Gordon has been a Director of Unilever - Bestfoods since 1991.

Tootsie Roll Industries is a top 1000 company and has been very good to the Gordons. Mr. & Mrs., have a reported and combined annual income + options of more than 8.4MM.

So, Karen comes from money (or candy), a lot of it. Is it any surprise then that she went into the Venture Capital industry? She has served as President of MMP Group, a private equity investor and advisor since 1993. From 1999 to 2007 she was a founding partner and a managing director of Solera Capital, a late-stage, 'controlling interest' VC firm with $250MM+ under management. I’m still waiting to see what The Funded has to say about Solera Capital, if anything.

"Our operating philosophy is to invest about $15–20 million in each deal and take a controlling interest," notes Mills." We like to be the capital that comes in to grow the business to the next level — build the next plant, make an acquisition, or expand the brand."

I am not a huge advocate of Venture Capitalist (VC) and believe that there are good reasons why they are oft referred to as ‘Vulture’ Capitalists. Having said that, I realize that they play a role and that not all of them are money grubbing thieves. The fact that some of them are makes what The Funded does such an incredible service to entrepreneurs and business owners! We’ll talk more about this manifestation of the Social-ness of the web another day.

The media is reporting that Karen has taken a leadership role in the growth of more than 20 companies in the consumer products, food, distribution, textile and industrial component sectors since the mid 1980s. That’s less than 1 (one) deal per year. Not exactly aggressive lending by any stretch of the imagination.

I am very hopeful that Karen can step up and reform a government agency that is in desperate need of leadership. That she can see her way clear to developing conscientious funding policy, developing flexible and easy to access funding for the majority of small businesses, not the sweetheart deals that she is used to working with in her current life

At this point, the jury is still out on Karen Mills!

1 comment:

  1. As of November 2010, I would say the jury is back in wouldn't you?

    Is it sny wonder true small businesses (under 20 employees) who are the engine of employment have seen nothing from Mills? She's the heiress Tootsie Roll (a Fortune 100 company), her parents made $8+million a year in income while she was growing up, and her experience in small business was buying larger companies for $15-20 million each.

    She might be a great person but wouldn't know a small business if it bit her. She is typical of what big government, big business, and the big SBA define as "small", which has nothing do to with small.

    We need a new SBA for true small businesses under 20 employees, with leadership that actually comes from the small business sector.

    Of the 111 federal, regional and state administrators of the SBA, only 9% ever worked in small business and only 1.8% of them in the last 15 years. It's full of people from giant corporations and giant government. Mills is no exception.


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