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Magic Johnson SBA Administrator?

There are many names being batted around for SBA Administrator. The SBA desperately needs a shot in the arm and the right leadership would be critical. This Wall Street Journal article by Kelly Spors handicaps the front runners.

As President-elect Obama unveils his Cabinet members, some small-business owners and organizations anxiously await who he’ll pick to run the agency charged with helping them.

Some of the names floating around as potential next Small Business Administration leaders include Fred Hochberg, who leads Obama’s SBA transition team and was former acting SBA administrator; Annette Taddeo, a Colombian-born business executive who ran for Congress; and Monica Lozano, a Los Angeles businesswoman and publisher of La Opinion, the largest Spanish newspaper in the U.S.

The next SBA chief will certainly have enough to do. The agency has been criticized in recent years for, among other things, its slow handling of disaster loans post-Hurricane Katrina, unpopular changes to its lending programs, and inadequately ensuring small businesses get government contracts. Not to mention SBA has often popped up on lists of government agencies with the lowest employee morale.
The new chief may also be managing a bigger budget, if President Obama, as some expect, supports SBA more than President Bush has. Sen. Olympia Snowe and others have recently suggested the SBA post be elevated to a cabinet position to give it more stature within the administration.

For more perspective on whom this superhero might be, I asked Karen Kerrigan, president and CEO of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council, a small-business association. Unsurprisingly, Ms. Kerrigan would like the next SBA chief to network more closely with small-business groups like hers. The new chief should also be “process-oriented” to grapple with SBA’s internal issues, be a strong manager, be well-networked within small-business communities and have a good handle on small-business finance issues to improve the lending programs, she says. Ideally, she adds, the SBA chief would be a former entrepreneur – something recent SBA chiefs have not been — who started a business and built it into a big operation. That way, they’d also have the expertise of managing a big budget and lots of employees, as an SBA administrator must.

So, who fits the bill? Ms. Kerrigan took a few minutes to ponder and called me back. “My dream pick” she says, “is Magic Johnson.” She doubts the former LA Laker is in the running, but says he has all the characteristics she seeks: He’s started a string of successful businesses, could draw celebrity attention to a stodgy federal agency, cares about helping the disadvantaged and urban revitalization and aligns himself with smart people. “Even if it’s something that he’d consider doing short term,” she says, “I think it would be incredibly beneficial to the agency and small business.”
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