Financing

How Did Karen Mills, the Departing SBA Chief, Do?


Karen Mills, departing administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, listens during a small business financing forum at the Treasury in Washington in 2009

Photograph by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Karen Mills, departing administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, listens during a small business financing forum at the Treasury in Washington in 2009

You already know about the Pope’s resignation. In case you missed the latest member of President Obama’s Cabinet to step down: It’s Karen Mills, the head of the Small Business Administration.

She announced her departure today in a note to her staff and indicated she would stay on until her successor is confirmed. In a statement, Obama thanked her for her “outstanding work” and credited her with helping “America’s small businesses recover from the worst economic crisis in generations.”

Mills, a Harvard-educated former venture capitalist who took the reins at the federal agency in 2009, is leaving on a positive note. Over the last four years, she said, the SBA supported more than $106 billion in lending to more than 193,000 small businesses and entrepreneurs, including two record years of delivering more than $30 billion in loan guarantees. When she inherited it, the agency had languished under the George W. Bush administration, which cut its funding by about 26 percent since 2001 and sliced staff by 18 percent since 2003, according to our story at the time of her Senate confirmation.

Among its many small business support functions, the Small Business Administration guarantees loans, to encourage lenders to make more of them. Rohit Arora, who runs Biz2Credit, an online marketplace based in New York that matched small businesses with about $460 million last year, says Mills “was instrumental in bringing SBA lending back into the market.” He notes SBA loan volumes for 2011 and 2012 were the highest in the agency’s history.

“Over the last three to four years, the SBA has become a market maker, in spite of the fact [its overall share of small business lending] being relatively small. If they get into something, then [banks] start coming back,” says Arora. “It acts like a confidence booster.”

When the new administrator takes over, Arora would like the agency to make better use of software to rely less on paper. “One of the biggest gripes for a lot of banks [about] the SBA is it is far behind the curve in terms of technology,” he says. “For example, even the IRS allows for e-signatures to pull your tax data; while the SBA doesn’t allow them on its forms.”

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Leiber is Small Business editor for Businessweek.com, Entrepreneurs editor for Bloomberg.com, and covers small business for Bloomberg Businessweek.

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