Since the 2008 financial meltdown, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have made a habit of denigrating Wall Street and venerating Main Street. “My tenure has been defined by the way that small business has become part of the discussion,” says Mills, SBA’s outgoing administrator.
When she was sworn in as administrator in April 2009, small business was starved for capital. Since then, SBA has revitalized Main Street by guaranteeing tens of billions of dollars in loans. The agency has a relatively modest budget, but it wields the full faith and credit of the United States. In 2011 alone, SBA facilitated $30 billion in lending to more than 60,000 small businesses.
Apart from guaranteeing loans, the agency helps small business access $100 billion in federal contracts annually. It also supports free counseling and technical assistance for more than 1 million entrepreneurs and administers disaster assistance to homeowners, renters, and businesses.
In January 2012, SBA was elevated to a Cabinet-level agency, giving it a “seat at the table,” Mills says, and allowing the federal government to consolidate programs aimed at small business. SBA now works more closely with the departments of Agriculture and Commerce, as well as with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and other agencies.
A native of Maine, Mills is the daughter of Melvin Gordon, CEO of Tootsie Roll Industries. After receiving a B.A. and M.B.A. from Harvard University, she managed a string of manufacturing firms, including producers of hardwood flooring, refrigerator motors, and plastic injection molding.
In 2007, Mills was appointed chair of Maine’s Council on Competitiveness and the Economy by then-Democratic Gov. John Baldacci. She also served on Baldacci’s Council for the Redevelopment of the Brunswick Naval Air Station.
Before coming to SBA, Mills was president of the MMP Group, a Maine private-equity firm. The 60-year-old announced her resignation in February and will return to Brunswick, Maine, as soon as the Senate confirms her successor. Since turning 50, the candy heiress has battled the surf of Casco Bay as a participant in “sprint-level” triathlons. She is married to Barry Mills, president of Bowdoin College.