Cabinet member McMahon talks business, jobs, and her early years making meatballs

Cabinet member McMahon talks business, jobs, and her early years making meatballs

Prior to her address last Thursday night, U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Administrator Linda McMahon, 2nd from left, a member of President Trump’s cabinet, spent a moment with Northern R.I. Chamber of Commerce leaders, hosts of her visit to the group’s Annual Dinner. More than 550 people were on hand at Twin River Event Center. From left are Chamber President and CEO John Gregory, Administrator McMahon, Susan Fabrizio, the Chamber’s new Board chairwoman, and R.I. SBA District Director Mark Hayward. (Breeze Photo by Tom Ward)

I had to chance to ask questions of Linda McMahon, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Administrator and member of President Donald Trump's cabinet. We spoke a few hours before she addressed the Annual Meeting of the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce at Twin River Event Center last Thursday, Feb. 8.

McMahon, of Connecticut, began her career as a small business owner and went on – with her husband Vince McMahon – to found the WWE, or World Wresting Entertainment, Inc. She has been SBA Administrator for about one year.

TW: Thank you for taking the time to meet with me today. My first question: What personal advice do you – Linda McMahon – have for a young entrepreneur hoping to begin a business? How can the SBA help him or her?

LM: Well first, they should start at SBA.gov, and look at all of the (resources) that can be helpful. It can make them aware of things they might not even think about.

TW: But what about advice from you, personally?

LM: Well, I wish I had known about SBA (when I started my career). The kind of business that I built had no bricks and mortar. It was about cash flow management. I would like very much to have had some advice and counsel along the way, but we did it a little more by hard knocks. That's a very indelible way to learn.

TW: That brings me to my next question. I've read your bio, and long before your success with WWE, way back in 1980, you used to make meatball sandwiches for fans in the Cape Cod Coliseum that you owned with your husband. You've done the "small business" thing yourself. What don't people know about you?

LM: The funny part about that story is Vince and I did that for only two nights and the reason is that we were bringing the Boston Bruins for an exhibition game, and it was very expensive to do that, and a risk. We were really rolling the dice to sell enough tickets. We provided a VIP section, and they (fans) could come backstage and meet the Bruins and have meatballs. While rolling the meatballs at home at night, I said 'Vince, those meatballs are getting bigger and bigger. We need to have them small because you stick 'em with a toothpick.' We had a lot of fun doing it as well.
The good news is, before tickets even went on sale, the buzz was so great that we sold out in about 20 minutes. It was a big risk, but that one had a good return!

TW: Your home state is Connecticut, and jobs and businesses are leaving over the high taxes there. Aetna is being bought by our CVS Health. What is the SBA seeing around business formation and job creation in high tax states like Rhode Island and Connecticut vs. lower tax states?

LM: It's not just about taxes. With high taxes where I live (in Conn.), it's easy for those companies in financial services to move, so taxes have been a big factor. One of the big drivers now (for job creation) is the labor force development.

TW: So some states are doing a better job in labor force development?

LM: I think so. This is part of what SBA will be focusing on in 2018. We'll be working with the U.S. Department of Labor and the Dept. of Education to listen to what companies' needs are. The President has signed his executive order relative to apprenticeships. It's refocusing: How can we develop more engineers, more carpenters, more welders? There's vocational training, community colleges, the private sector working with with the public sector to build in "What is it that we need?"

TW: Well, that's good news because I know Gov. Gina Raimondo here is very much on that page.

LM: Yes, I've met her, and I like her very much.

TW: Rhode Island's elected leaders all believe that an increasing minimum wage is part of the answer to the state's economic problems, with those more liberal Democrats advocating for $15 per hour. What is your opinion of this "Living Wage" debate?

LM: Minimum wage has to be viewed in the environment in which it exists. A $15 minimum wage in one state might be quite different than where it might be somewhere else. It's dependent on how that can be supported by the business that's being required to raise the minimum wage. Some businesses it might put out of business; some might not feel the effect at all. I think it will depend on local conditions for that.

TW: It has been said the Trump Administration has been rapidly removing regulations across the country in its first year. Can you cite any specific regulation that has been removed for the benefit of small business?

LM: I cannot. What I hear most about is a reduction in the volume of regulations. If you are the CEO or the janitor, when you have to spend time or money to be in compliance with burdensome regulations than it takes away from your business.

TW: Has the Trump Administration brought anything new to the SBA? What has changed?

LM: I don't know that the Administration per se has made a significant change. This may sound self-serving, but I think one of the things President Trump wanted to have in the position of the Administrator was to have someone who had built a business from the ground up. Someone who knows what it's like to go through the ins and outs, the successes and failures of a business, and appreciate from that level what business leaders and entrepreneurs need. That's what he told me as President-elect when he asked me to take the job. He wanted someone who had 'been there and done that.'
At this point, Rhode Island's SBA District Director, Mark S. Hayward, chimed in. "I've been here for 35 years, and I've seen 10 of the 25 administrators. This is the first Administrator who was a small business owner before they became Administrator," said Hayward.

TW: Finally, Ms. McMahon, as a cabinet member you get to meet with President Trump. Most of us don't. Did you know him prior to his being President, and what can you tell us about him personally? Is he being portrayed fairly by the media?

LM: I've know him in a business relationship for about 25 years. We did meet when we were doing an event together; two or three WWE events. As a matter of fact, he is the only President who is in the WWE Hall of Fame. A little known fact.. (She's chuckling as she tells the story). So he is an incredibly strong business partner, he absolutely delivers what he promises to do. He really provided great support and great marketing behind us and helped the event be successful.
And I do not believe he gets a fair shake in the media. Because, I think...this is the most prejudiced, biased media that I've seen and I think it needs to change.

TW: Do you have concerns with the tone of discussion of various ideas since the dawn of social media? Is it a net plus or minus for reasoned debate?

LM: You could argue both sides of that all day long. But for a company like WWE, or for the SBA, (it's good) to all of a sudden have the opportunity to reach out on a much wider basis. For instance, one of the goals that SBA will have this year as part of the President's agenda is more rural development. How do we best do that? We can't have bricks and mortar everywhere, so the opportunity to reach them digitally through more webinars and educational outreach is going to be incredibly important. Social media really spreads the word about what SBA is doing, so there's a really positive side to that.

TW: President Trump has loosened regulations on energy production of fossil fuels. Some here are concerned about climate change. In Rhode Island, a new proposal hopes to tax carbon emissions. Do you, or does the SBA, have any thoughts around that and its impact on small business?

LM: What we've already seen without the regulation is many of the companies (for years now) be very responsible about that and they've brought down their carbon footprint. And that is really without over burdensome regulations. I think if we continue to have the focus on clean air, clean water, from the consumer point of view, with those companies who are producing those products, I think we'll continue to be one of the world leaders in controlling our carbon footprint.
TW: Thank you.

- To learn more about the SBA, the free services it offers, and its many resources, visit www.sba.gov, and click on "Menu" and "Local Assistance." The Rhode Island office is at 380 Westminster St., Room 511, Providence. Phone (401) 528-4561.

Comments

Well done Tom very interesting!!