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Is the new SBA Administrator Already Failing America’s Business Owners and Entrepreneurs?
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My good friend and editor of the Coleman Report, Bob Coleman recently wrote a very revealing and insightful piece (“scathing,” might be a better choice of wording) in his weekly publication. In the May 11th and May 18th issues, he profiled how the new SBA Administrator, Karen Mills, doesn’t seem to be doing all she can for America’s beleaguered small businesses – all while telling the tale of his first television appearances on CNN. Bob and I (and his son, Joseph) had dinner this past Saturday night at the landmark Bethesda Crab House near Washington, D.C. and over steamed shrimp, Maryland blue crabs, and beers, he agreed to let me share this subscribers-only information with you.

With his permission, I’ve reprinted most of the articles here and added some of my own comments (always in the brackets, highlighted, and in italics). While it’s a little long, it’s written very conversationally and in a story format, so it’s definitely worth your time and trouble to get through it. Plus, this is truly the kind of thing that you ought to comment on at the end of this blog post, whether you agree, had no idea, or have suggestions for the new SBA Administrator. Let us know where you stand. Something HAS to change. Bailing out old, dying industries with nearly $800 billion while the source of 70% of America’s net new jobs every year only gets about 1% of that figure is a travesty. It’s time America’s entrepreneurs have a tireless advocate in Washington and not merely another bureaucrat using the SBA as a stepping-stool to bigger and better things. America’s businesses are working harder than ever to stay in business and trying to get ahead these days, why should we expect anything less from our civil servants?

Why I threw Karen Mills under the Bus
My CNN Interview

SBA Administrator Karen Mills had been in her position for just over a month when I taped my CNN interviews in New York on May 7.

My criticism of her was based on the fact that in her first 30 days she had not made any public appearances or made any statements discussing the crisis in small business lending. [THIS is kind of what you’d like to see from the new Administrator!]

CNN Money anchor Poppy Harlow challenged my criticism. She said even the President knows this will take time.

However, I said Ms. Mills needs to be out there, talking to the small business lending community. I said she is the voice of small business.

We need to hear her solutions to getting capital for Main Street.

The previous week I had attended the NADCO conference for SBA 504 lenders. Ms. Mills had sent her chief of staff to address these critical private sector partners that were experiencing a 45% drop in 504 lending. [She should have been there herself – making it a priority… what could possibly be MORE important?]

The day I taped my interviews in New York coincided with opening night of the NAGGL Conference in Boston. The situation for 7(a) lenders was even more dire, with that industry suffering a 57% drop in lending.

Ms. Mills chose not to appear at that SBA lender conference either. [What WAS she doing either week?!?]

My underlying frustration was based on what was happening to Main Street in my own town – a suburb of 23,000, 12 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles. Every week that goes by without the full force of SBA’s stimulus package brings the closure of more small businesses.

No one is speaking for them – even though small business accounts for 70% of the GDP and 50% of new jobs in the American economy.

I am angered by SBA’s failure to follow Congress’ 15-day emergency regulatory implementation language for parts of the stimulus that were due to roll out March 4th and 19th – 504 and 7(a) secondary market liquidity programs – and of course the $35,000 ARC loan program designed to help small businesses get through this recession.

I’m not alone. Senator Snowe, the ranking member on the Senate Small Business Committee, urged Ms. Mills at her confirmation hearing to get these programs moving. She understands the cost of delay. [Are we sure? She’s a former venture-capitalist NOT a former small business lender – there’s a canyon-sized gap of a difference.]

Every week of delay results in more lost jobs, reduced local sales tax revenues – and failed entrepreneurial dreams.

Since December, more than 15 small businesses have failed on my Main Street. A Union 76 gas station that had been family owned and run for more than 60 years. A sandwich shop. My wife’s hair salon. A gym. Real estate brokers. Small gift shops. A loan broker. A management company. An art gallery. A small clothing store. Even the shipping store where I drop off my UPS packages is now gone.

One of the sadder stories was one of the local gift shops. Next to a “For Lease” sign in the shop’s front window is a handwritten note that reads, “Thank you for shopping with us, whether it was for one day or 60 years – Pam and Pete.”

“For Lease” signs litter the two-mile stretch of my Main Street.

If all these workers were employed by a Fortune 500 company that was threatening to close the local branch, there would be an outcry to save the jobs and the factory. Politicians would try to cut deals. Bailouts would be proposed. [Exactly!!!]

Not so with my local small businesses. Every week that goes by with an incomplete SBA stimulus package results in more lost jobs and failed entrepreneurs.

The secondary market must be fixed. It needs SBA’s stimulus program for liquidity so small business lenders can make loans. Small businesses need access to the ARC $35K loan program.

So, when I was asked by Ms. Harlow how I felt about Karen Mills, that’s why I said she needs to be out there. She needs to talk to lending partners. She needs to move bureaucratic inertia to get these programs launched and get the flow of capital back to Main Street.

Off camera, I said she should have been the one interviewed by CNN, not me.

She must be the voice for small business. [Or she should step aside, go back into the private sector or move on to something else. These are critical times and America’s small business community needs a strong, tireless Advocate… not someone merely going through the motions.]

CNN

I was invited to New York by Emily Maltby and Stacy Cowley. Emily writes about small business issues for the CNN Money website. Stacy is the site’s editor. [Emily has interviewed me several times as well – very competent and nice.]

It was a heady experience and everyone there went out of their way to make me feel comfortable.

I was met by a friendly, calming producer, Robert Walker, and he escorted me to Makeup.

When I was booked, I reached out to Chris Hurn of Mercantile Capital, a 504 lender out of Florida. Chris is a marketing genius and recently did a great live piece on SBA lending for “Fox Business News.” I asked him for some tips. He said: 1) Button my coat so my gut doesn’t hang out – Chris obviously knows me; 2) Lean forward at a 15-degree angle; 3) If you are asked two questions at once, stay focused on your talking points and only answer one. Allow the anchor to follow-up; 4) Make sure you get makeup, or you will look really, really funny. [You’ll now see if he followed my advice…]

Make-up

Although I worked in Hollywood for a number of years, I have never worn makeup – never even thought about it. When I told my wife my problem, she got very excited. She was ready to take me out shopping and teach me all about her wonderful world. Needless to say, I did not share my wife’s enthusiasm.

I emailed Emily and Stacy on the makeup situation. They politely said they were CNN, and they could find somebody to take care of me.

That somebody was in a room with three other makeup artists. Each one had a barber shop style chair with hundreds of little bottles stacked neatly all around. Unfortunately, I have forgotten her name, but this lady was a real pro who obviously has taken care of a lot of people more important than I.

She went right to work dabbing my face with something (I have no clue what it was). I talked to her about her work and she was very formal, until I confessed that this was my first experience with makeup.

She immediately warmed to the challenge, telling me that she was going to give me “the full treatment.”

After finishing the dabbing of stuff all over my face, I figured she was done. I started to get out of the chair when I noticed that she had some type of instrument in her hand that looked suspiciously like something a proctologist would use.

She said, “Relax sir.”

It was an air brush! I knew that from a painting job I had during college. And I’m not talking a little air whooshed out here and there. She was laying it on in a continuous stream as if she was covering a canvas.

I wasn’t expecting this and needed to take a deep breath. She said, “Don’t breathe! Hold your breath!”

After what seemed to be a very long time, she told me it was safe to breathe again. She combed my hair real quick and pointed me over to the Green Room. I was in and out of Makeup in less than 5 minutes. I thanked her profusely and walked over to the Green Room.

The Green Room

Of course, the first thing I did was look into a mirror. Not bad! A little pasty, but all the natural redness in my face was gone – only to reappear on camera! And the makeup seemed to clog my pores, so I didn’t think I would sweat that much – more on that later.

My observations on the Green Room. Well, it was green. More of a hospital washed-out lime green. I was the only one in the room. I guess it was soothing.

The big screen TV was turned on to CNN news, of course. CNN Atlanta had just cut to New York, where Poppy Harlow was finishing a live report. There were a couple of couches and chairs with magazines strewn about on a coffee table. I grabbed some ice water and started gulping.

After about 10 minutes, Robert came into the room and took me to the set.

CNN Money

The CNN Money set is in the Time Warner building at Columbus Circle in New York. It sits in the middle of a room with about 50 staffers on each side of the set staring into state-of-the-art computer screens.

Approximately half of the staffers support CNN’s on-air segments, while the rest are assigned to its Web site.

The room is cavernous. At the end of the room are Anderson Cooper’s and CNN’s “American Morning” sets.

The CNN Money set is elevated and surrounded by cameras and several banks of bright lights. Robert brought me in and introduced me to Poppy Harlow, the stereotypical female cable anchor. Blonde, young, talented, beautiful and smart.

I made my first gaffe by calling her “Polly,” which brought a sharp rebuke from both Robert and her!

Poppy it was then.

The three of us went over her questions and she quickly honed in on my criticism of Karen Mills. She said that we’d have two segments running approximately five minutes each. The first segment was “Jump-starting SBA Lending.” [It should have been Bob AND me there…we could have tag-teamed those CNN types… oh well.]

CNN Producer Robert Walker left the set and settled in behind his monitor. Camera personnel quickly appeared – I should know this, but I don’t remember how many cameras were used. Robert told me not to worry about the cameras and not to look at the monitor – of course I then took a quick peek and saw some old fat white guy sitting in my chair. That extra 15 pounds seemed like a lot more. Time to put in some more gym time.

I put my water bottle behind the screen and we were off.

I made my second gaffe when I said that it was tough to be a small business banker these days. Mangling Fullerton Community Bank SVP and SBA Manager Joan Earhart’s line, I asked, “How can a banker trust lending to small business when GM and Chrysler are bankrupt?”

Eventually, I’ll be right, but as of May 7, I was wrong. That line ended up on the cutting room floor, which saved me and CNN from a possibly massive lawsuit. Also cut was Poppy’s questions about how I felt SBA was doing with the stimulus package. I gave a vanilla answer that I respect the bureaucrats; they have a tough job but they are missing some deadlines. Poppy wouldn’t let me off the hook. She looked me in the eye and asked how I felt about the new SBA Administrator.

I said, “Very clearly she needs to become the voice of Main Street and I am a little bit critical of her right now because she hasn’t done that. Now I know she has only been on the job for three to four weeks but all she has done is announce her appointments and the ability for lenders to grant money to dealerships.” [That should have only taken a few days… what ELSE has she accomplished?!?]

Poppy and Robert liked my answer – not necessarily for the content, but for the opinion.

We ended the first segment and went right into the next one. “Befriending Your Small Business Lender.”

I was a little more at ease with this segment and I don’t remember anything being cut. The questions were all softball and I tried to give passionate, succinct answers without pauses interspersed with the dreaded “you know.”

During one of my responses, I felt a drop of sweat running down my face. Poppy sees it. Mercifully, Robert cuts to a graphic.

We finished, Robert and Poppy said I did a good job – I’m sure they say that to all guests. I assume an invitation to come back will be the final arbiter of my performance.

Afterwards I met up with Emily and Stacy and we talked for about 10 minutes. I took off my coat to discover my blue shirt was drenched through like Albert Brooks’ character in Network News. Robert, Stacy and Emily laughed it off, saying that it happens all the time and the lights are awfully hot. They were being kind.

My third mistake occurred when Robert asked me if I want to go back to Makeup to have my makeup removed. I thought to myself, “Nah, I’m a guy. I want to spend the least amount of time possible in that room.” So I simply said, “Nah, thanks anyway. I’ll clean it up myself when I change for my train trip to Boston.” [Uh oh… forgot to tell Bob about this…]

He shrugged, but I’m sure he was laughing to himself at my rookie mistake. [Yep!]

As I left the set, a tour group of about 10 to 15 people were walking in and I overheard the tour guide say that they just finished a segment. The tourists were all looking at me, trying to figure out who I was. I should have told them to ignore me and check out the true star, Poppy Harlow. [Reminds me of the New Era commercial with the regular guy wearing a Boston Red Sox baseball cap at a Japanese airport and people thinking he’s David “Big Papi” Ortiz… Bob should have played along and acted like some big head-of-state. “President Medvedev! President Medvedev!”]

I grabbed a cab, went back to my aunt and uncle’s apartment in New York, and started taking off the makeup. I promptly ruined three of their white hand towels by staining them with some horrible brown stuff that will probably never wash out. I gave up trying to get the rest of the makeup off my face and wore the itchy, uncomfortable stuff to Boston.

Conclusion

Many have asked if I was nervous. Not really. I was a little nervous before the first question, but quickly got over it. I know this stuff cold. I’m passionate about the subject of getting capital to Main Street. I’m comfortable speaking to crowds. It could have been intimidating on the set, because there were about 100 people in the room, but that didn’t bother me. Poppy was a great interviewer and CNN treated me very nicely.

The problem I had was watching the final, edited product. For some reason, watching my performance made me very nervous and uneasy. It was very difficult for me to watch those segments. I wonder if Karen Mills had a similar reaction. [Let’s hope so… we think you did a very nice job, Bob.]

18 Comments

  1. Chris Hobel says:

    i expect like tim geitner- kim mills is the wrong pick for this position. id also like to add with small businesses dropping like flies and many more business and ppl making under 250k per yr where is the obama dumonomics gonna get tax review? from the 75k plus a year group?

    heres my plan any major businesses like aig gm that fail let ’em and sell off assets to highest bidder in the small bizness arena in america( never out source your product to foreign hands) im sure there are some wunderkinds in the small business arena that are fiscally savvy enough to revamp , mainstream these tired titans of yesterdays industries.

    i bet karen mills shows up as a regular at the white house weds parties with stevie wonder and other kiss ass celebs.

  2. John Konevich, Alliance Capital Funding says:

    Chris:

    Thanks for sharing Bob’s article and your thoughts. As you both articulated, small business is the backbone of our nations economy. The SBA Programs and it’s participating lenders have stimulated the economy for years by making capital available to the marketplace. The new administrator has a unique opportunity to be a advocate and friend of small business. By not getting up close and personal with those lenders that have fought tirelessly for small business at the recent NAGGL conference is appalling. We don’t need a figure head in this time of crises. We need someone who is not afraid to roll up their sleeves and keep our business owners open for business.

    Thanks for your continued support of the SBA programs and small business owners throughout the U.S.A

    John Konevich, Principal
    Alliance Capital Funding Group LLC
    Boston, MA

  3. O Nikos says:

    I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Bob in person (just over the phone) but after watching the videos I know I would hit if off with him.

    Go Bob, keep telling it how it is! I know with Chris we have two great people fighting on the side of the good guys!

  4. Howard Levine says:

    “America’s businesses are working harder than ever to stay in business and trying to get ahead these days, why should we expect anything less from our civil servants?”

    Chris,

    Because they have absolute job security, safe salaries, medical, pension, 4 weeks a year vacation, and more percs the higher the position. They really are not involved!

  5. Cathy McNeil says:

    Thanks for these updates I always enjoy reading.

  6. Stephen Bittel says:

    Chris I know karen well personally and suggest the issue is the banks. The fed keeps telling them to build up capital and not lend as leadership talks of loosening credit

  7. Marie Paulsen says:

    Thanks for your very informative information. Keep it coming. Marie

  8. Daryl Sue says:

    Thank you- what an unbelievable story.

  9. Chuck Blakeman says:

    Thanks for emailing my company – I’m a big small business advocate and believe the SBA is one of the greatest hindrances to small business growth in America. I panned this selection as well in a few other forums, but the real issue is the “client base” of the SBA, which now constitutes 99.93% of all businesses (27 million are “small” by SBA standards, under 500 employees, 17,000 are large, there is not mid). That’s like defining short people as anyone under 7′ 6″ tall, or 99.93% of the population.

    Following is my ongoing help to small businesses. http://blog.teamnimbuswest.com. I have a book coming out on the subject in the late summer or early fall.

  10. Chris Hurn says:

    Stephen –

    Thanks for your response. If you do know Karen well, please feel free to pass on my comments. I don’t mean them maliciously, but I do mean them critically. She may be in a difficult, even thankless position, but I know there’s a lot more she could be doing — including putting more pressure on the banking community. Perhaps even bringing to life that we have a banking regulatory environment telling banks one thing (and can put them out of business if they don’t comply) and a real world environment requiring their help in bringing about solutions to get us out of this mess. The real story of the credit markets in times like these aren’t being told because bankers are too scared of the regulators and think it’s too technical for the average person to comprehend. Karen has an opportunity to lead the change that’s needed. That was really what I’m trying to convey in my criticism. Again, thanks for commenting. Take care.

    Chris

  11. Chris Hurn says:

    Thanks for your comments, Chuck. I agree with your analogy, but disagree with your conclusion. The SBA doesn’t have to be a hindrance, but sadly in the past it has been. I think it has the potential to be a great force of help and good for America’s small businesses, but it has to believe it can. It has a mindset and a leadership “issue” in my opinion – things that can change, but often don’t.

  12. Jamie says:

    Good job! Someone needs to do something before it’s too late.

  13. Michael Sabler says:

    Amen Chris! Jobs created by small businesses add value to our lives where government jobs just create a burden to the taxpayer with no added value.

  14. Joel says:

    Close down the IRS,put a cap on government spending,end eminent domain,implement the Fair Tax. http://www.fairtax.org

  15. Andy Kron says:

    we keep telling each other how inportant small buisness is to the economy. Unfortunatly as we see
    the current administration has no interest in
    private industry or ownership. This is what we
    must start undrstandin and ajusting to.

  16. Braudis Pegram says:

    Chris, thanks for your email. I find your post and comments, and the comments of others before me, both humorous and poignant. As always, and this time with a Bob Coleman assist, you’ve scored. Unfortunately, some are critizing the Administration for the negligence of those who have been appointed by the Administration. No Administration that I can remember has ever been disinterested in private industry or ownership; and the perception that we should adjust to this misconception bespeaks fatalism.

    Though I do not suggest that we apathetically sit on our hands like Karen Mills appears to be doing, I do advocate that we support the Administration while making it difficult for people like her as well as lending partner un-cooperatives, to persistently posture or try to maintain the status quo. I think this forum, and others like it, are an integral part of that movement.

  17. Willis Kettrell says:

    Chris:

    Thank you for insight.

    What can I do as a Broker?

  18. Yna says:

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for this very Informative article, great insight.

    Yna
    -Use SuFaq for automated customer support online.

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