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Obama MillsPresident Obama has appointed Karen Gordon Mills to take the top spot at the Small Business Administration (SBA). 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.

sbaKaren 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.

tootsie_rollKaren’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. “Our operating philosophy is to invest about $15-20 million in each deal and take a controlling interest,” noted 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.” (…and then flip it and get our multiple.)

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. We’ll see how (if) that translates to her role with the SBA.

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!

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