If there’s anyone who can appreciate teamwork and resilience when your back is to the ropes, it’s Linda McMahon, the administrator of the Small Business Administration.
While the former founder and CEO for World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. — a small business itself at one time — has been away from the arenas for years, McMahon has brought some of the lessons learned around the ring to her leadership role at a time when other federal agencies are looking to duck and cover amid a government reorganization.
“I have always maintained that if you really look at things, not like ‘This is how we always do it,’ but ‘Today is the first day on your job, how are you going to complete this job in the most effective and efficient way.’ If it works the way you were doing it, and that’s the best plan, fine; but I have never found that a plan couldn’t be made better, and that everybody’s accountabilities couldn’t be sharpened,” McMahon said in an exclusive interview with Federal News Radio.
McMahon has spent the early part of her role as SBA’s administrator working with agency leadership to meet the deadlines per the directive of President Donald Trump’s executive order.
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“Change is never easy and change is painful, but we are looking at each of our program offices: are there any of those that we can combine, can we streamline anything,” McMahon said. “My words are ‘efficient and effective.’ I made that announcement the first week I was here. Lucky for me the transition team that moved in between administrations was already on top of that. Our [Chief Human Capital Officer Elias Hernandez] was already here, our [Chief Operating Officer] Joe Loddo was really already on top of it. And Mary Anne Bradfield who is my chief of staff was also leading a lot of those charges. So we were in motion, to be — I think — a more effective SBA. So those goals, while I think I have raised the level of them and put some more in place, what I had was a really good team who already understood … and we are far ahead of other agencies even before the president signed his executive order about looking through agencies to make sure you’re not duplicating … we were already on that.”
Change might not be easy, but it’s something McMahon is looking to bring to SBA. She told Federal News Radio that one of her biggest goals at the agency is to introduce a new marketing program to help the public learn more about what SBA does and what it can offer to small business owners.
“What I find in talking with our district offices, as well as our regional offices, is we offer all these good things, but so few people know the depth and reach of SBA,” McMahon said. “A lot of them hear ‘SBA’ and they think loans. Well, it’s far beyond loans. We’re working on a new marketing program that we’re going to roll out next year that really is going to tout all the services of SBA. Once more people know about SBA, we will actually increase the numbers of people going to our centers for that advice and counseling.”
McMahon said the program dovetails with another priority of revamping the agency’s website, though she admitted that will take time.
“We have so much information on it, a wealth of information, but it’s not easy to navigate and get responses from the site,” McMahon said. “So that’s one of the things we’re working on: how do you translate that incredibly great information to be more user friendly.”
Concise, easy to digest information, and a site that’s easy to navigate are the focus of the site’s eventual update, McMahon said.
“I think our site can be more informative,” McMahon said. “We are doing more webinars, we have more experts from industry who are coming in to talk with us. SBA is really a great beneficiary of having the Trump administration focus on small business as well.”
McMahon hit the ground running after her Senate confirmation on Valentine’s Day.
She led the National Small Business Week annual celebration in April, and visited five states in five days, stopping by district offices, touring small businesses and participating in small business roundtable discussions.
McMahon also visited SBA’s Disaster Assistance Processing & Disbursement Center (PDC) in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, and she said she hopefully will attend a mock drill in the near future to see how SBA’s disaster assistance factors in to the overarching response effort during an emergency.
She’s signed six agency disaster declarations for a total of about $7.3 million in loans to more than 180 small businesses and homeowners in the first few weeks of taking office.
“Disaster relief is incredibly important and it is so important because we are helping to get businesses and families back on their feet,” McMahon said. “I’m very proud of the organization that we have. I’ve signed several disaster relief [declarations] now. When the first one came across my desk, I felt an incredible responsibility.”
McMahon said she is also focused on mentoring entrepreneurs, making it easier for small business owners to access loans, and advocating for the underdog.
For the fourth year in a row, the federal government reached its small business contracting goals, spending nearly $100 billion — or 24 percent of its contracting dollars — on small businesses. It failed to meet its HUBZone and Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) goals. Last year, for the first time, the government reached its 5 percent women-owned small business (WOSB) contracting goal since the bar was set in 1996.
“I am always working to make sure that we can maximize our program services in the field,” McMahon said, listing the SBA’s Women’s Business Centers, the agency’s Score program [that relies on the help of volunteer business counselors] and SBA’s Emerging Leaders Initiative, as examples for reaching out to business owners.
McMahon said SBA and its counseling for entrepreneurs has to have a modern approach, and the agency is on pace to do that, however, there is still much more work to be done.
“When you’re out in the marketplace every single day, responding to what’s going on, it’s a little bit different than if you’re just crafting policy,” McMahon said. “I don’t negate the importance of that, but we really have to have our fingers on the pulse of the marketplace; to make sure that we can be mobile and be malleable to react to what our businesses are going to need, because it changes with industry, technology. And all of that changing so quickly, we have to be prepared to help them. That means we have to educate lenders, we have to educate other people that are in the marketplace, to understand that these change are there, and so I think that’s our constant challenge and we have to be on top of it.”
She said she would also be looking at working with the small business committees in the House and Senate, and continuing to build a “culture of excitement” at SBA.
“I’ve instituted the operation along the lines of two words: ‘effective’ and ‘efficient.’ And if it’s not effective and efficient, we need to reevaluate it,” McMahon said. “We need to understand why it is we’re doing it, and let’s move forward to make it effective and efficient and be accountable for it. Or let’s get it off the table.”