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!

Laws of Good Content Continued...

Law #3 -- Significance:
Understand this… There is a very basic law that governs information on the Internet. This law, as viewed from the recipient’s standpoint, is simply this: Information should be free! Break this law at your own risk.

Actually, there’s a bit more to it than that. You must first establish Trust with your audience before you can start asking them to pay for anything. Trust is a byproduct of Value and value is in the eye of the beholder.

If your audience gives your information a positive valuation, you are well on your way to establishing trust. The common currency used for this exchange on the Internet is obviously information. A key variable in this Value + Trust = Customer Loyalty equation is the significance of the information provided.

By significance I do not mean quantity. What I am talking about is the quality of your information. If you can communicate your special value to your audience in a single page, so much the better.

Perhaps you have a one-page matrix, graph or spreadsheet that would be useful to your audience. Great! Let them have it! Don’t be bashful about letting them know this information is theirs to use for FREE! There is a natural inclination (an innate tendency really) within all of us to “return the favor.” By giving away significant information (content) you are tapping into this most basic of all human instincts. Your audience will reciprocate!

Law #4 -- Frequently Updated:
Your audience wants to know that you’re on-top-of-your-game! After all, they are coming to your web site or opting-in to your ezine to find out more about you, your information or your company, with the eventual and very real possibility of spending some of their hard-earned money on your products and services!

An easy way of demonstrating to your customers that you are indeed on top of your game is by updating your web content frequently. Having done so, you should send an e-message to your opt-in subscribers that “new” information is available on They will do the rest.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve visited web sites only to bail out immediately and go to the next one in line when I read this telltale sign at the bottom of the page: “Last Updated -- October 2001.” See Ya! If it took me 8 seconds to get to this point, great, if not I go away with the feeling that I’ve wasted my time.

If you are using such an update notice on any one of the pages in your web site, make sure that you keep it current. If you have no intention or plan to keep your web pages current and updated, remove the update notice immediately. This is essentially preventive maintenance, which is better than the damage control of trying to win-back lost visitors to your web site.

Another dead give-away is a web site visitor counter that hasn’t seen much action in a while! Counters do little to gain visitors confidence and trust—especially when they note that, “YOU are visitor # 246 since Oct 2000.”

Final Notes On Good Content
A couple final notes on good Content: First, it is important to strike a reasonable balance between your own company information, news and events and relevant industry related information. So many ezines and web sites on the Net today are nothing more than glorified sales literature. Don’t get caught in this trap. Give your prospects and customers excellent content, always. If you don’t, be assured that your competitors will.

Second, maintaining good content on your Internet Assets (website, ezine, blog, etc.) doesn’t happen by itself. It requires a concerted effort. As I mentioned earlier, you get back what you put out. Fortunately there are numerous resources at your immediate disposal to assist you with this challenge. The rewards for developing and maintaining a good content plan are great and are waiting for you, just around the corner.