Karen Mills

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Karen Mills
Karen Mills official portrait.jpg
23rd Administrator of the Small Business Administration
In office
April 6, 2009 – September 1, 2013
President Barack Obama
Deputy Marie Johns
Preceded by Darryl Hairston (Acting)
Succeeded by Jeanne Hulit (Acting)
Personal details
Born Karen Gordon
(1953-09-14) September 14, 1953 (age 61)
Wellesley, Massachusetts, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Barry Mills
Alma mater Harvard University
Harvard Business School

Karen Gordon Mills (born September 14, 1953) served as the 23rd Administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA). She was nominated by President-elect Barack Obama on December 19, 2008, confirmed unanimously by the Senate on April 2, 2009, and sworn in on April 6, 2009.[1][2] During her tenure, her office was elevated to the rank of Cabinet-level officer, expanding her power on policy decisions and granting her access to cabinet meetings.[3] On February 11, 2013 Mills announced her resignation as Administrator of the SBA.[4][5]

Early life[edit]

Mills is the daughter of Ellen (née Rubin), the present CEO of Tootsie Roll since 2015, and Melvin Gordon, the President and CEO of Tootsie Roll Industries from 1962 until 2015.[6][7] She has a B.A. in economics from Harvard University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.[8] She is married to Barry Mills, the president of Bowdoin College, and has three sons.


Mills has extensive experience in managing and investing in small businesses. During the 1980s and 1990s, Mills worked with and managed several small manufacturing firms throughout the country, including producers of hardwood flooring, refrigerator motors, and plastic injection molding.

More recently, she served on the board of the Maine Technology Institute, a nonprofit that invests in local technology companies and innovative small businesses.[9]

Before becoming SBA Administrator, Mills served as president of the private equity firm MMP Group, a firm focused on growing businesses in areas such as consumer products, food, textiles, and industrial components. Prior to MMP, she was a founding partner and managing director of Solera Capital, a venture capital firm based in New York City which invested in many women-owned firms, such as natural food producer Annie's.[10]

In 2007, former Maine Gov. John Baldacci appointed her to chair the state’s Council on Competitiveness and the Economy, which was focused on rural and regional development, including a regional "cluster" with Maine’s boatbuilding industry. She also served on the state's Council for the Redevelopment of the Brunswick Naval Air Station.

Previously, she has worked as a management consultant in the US and Europe for McKinsey and Co., and as a product manager for General Foods, and has served on the boards of directors for Scotts Miracle-Gro and Arrow Electronics.[11]

Mills is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and has been a vice chairman of the Harvard Board of Overseers, the older, more consultative, and larger of the two Harvard governing bodies. She was elected in 2014 to fill a vacancy in the Harvard Corporation (the President and Fellows of Harvard College), the University's smaller governing body that is its principal fiduciary authority.[8][12]


Mills is an advocate for regional industrial clusters—geographic groupings of related industries (such as tech companies in Silicon Valley) that can share resources, ideas, and human capital. In 2005, Mills became involved with the effort to create new jobs following the closing of the Brunswick Naval Air Station. She helped organize the North Star Alliance, a partnership between local boat builders, composite material manufacturers, and researchers at the University of Maine, which has helped increase the global competitiveness of Maine’s boat building and composite industries.[13]

She went on to organize the creation of a specialty foods cluster in Maine, with specialty producers, such as Peak Organic Beer, taking advantage of Maine’s local agriculture.[14] In 2007 she was appointed chair of Maine’s Council on Competitiveness and the Economy, where she focused on attracting investment in regional industries and rural areas of Maine.[15]

Mills authored a paper on the subject of clustering for the Brookings Institution in April, 2008.[16]

US Small Business Administration[edit]

Recently, the agency has gained a high profile under President Obama, who has made small businesses a cornerstone of his effort to revive the economy.[17]

Created in 1953, the Small Business Administration operates in four key areas: access to capital, government contracting, entrepreneurial development, and disaster relief. The SBA’s 7(a) and 504 loan programs offer guarantees on loans to small businesses that aren't able to receive traditional bank loans. They work with federal agencies to ensure that small businesses win 23% of all government contracts. The SBA’s 68 district offices, along with SBA counseling partners such as Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) and the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), offer technical training and counseling for small business owners and entrepreneurs. Lastly, the SBA makes direct, low-interest loans to businesses and individuals that have been affected by natural disasters.[18] On February 11, 2013 Mills announced that she would resign as Administrator of the SBA, with President Obama saying that; "because of Karen’s hard work and dedication, our small businesses are better positioned to create jobs and our entire economy is stronger."[19]


  1. ^ McLoone, Sharon (December 19, 2008). "Obama Taps Venture Capitalist to Head Small Business Administration". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-12-21. 
  2. ^ "Senate approves venture capitalist as SBA administrator". Government Executive. April 3, 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-06. 
  3. ^ SBA head, Maine native Mills to be elevated to cabinet level position
  4. ^ Puzzanghera, Jim (February 11, 2013). "Karen Mills to step down as head of Small Business Administration". latimes.com. Retrieved February 11, 2013. 
  5. ^ "Small Business Administration chief Karen Mills resigns". money.cnn.com. February 11, 2013. Retrieved February 11, 2013. 
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ Strom, Stephanie (2015-01-21). "Melvin J. Gordon, Who Ran Tootsie Roll Industries, Dies at 95". New York Times. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  8. ^ a b [2][dead link]
  9. ^ Senate Confirms Karen Mills as Head of SBA
  10. ^ Dolan, Kerry A. (March 29, 2012). "Look Who's Profiting From The Strong Annie's IPO". Forbes. Retrieved 2012-10-30. 
  11. ^ CNN http://money.cnn.com/2009/02/06/smallbusiness/karen_mills_maine_street.smb/index.html.  Missing or empty |title= (help)[dead link]
  12. ^ http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2014/02/chenault_gordon_mills_named/
  13. ^ "Karen Mills". Themainemag.com. Retrieved 2010-07-16. [dead link]
  14. ^ [3][dead link]
  15. ^ http://www.sbagateway.com/index.php?id=12&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=1&tx_ttnews[backPid]=2&cHash=1b6bfe2dda)
  16. ^ <http://www.brookings.edu/reports/2008/04_competitiveness_mills.aspx>
  17. ^ <http://www.americanbanker.com/usb_issues/119_10/karen-mills-is-big-on-small-business-1002093-1.html>
  18. ^ <http://www.sba.gov/aboutsba/index.html>
  19. ^ Harrison, J.D.; Ravindranath, Mohana. "SBA administrator Karen Mills stepping down". washingtonpost.com. Retrieved February 11, 2013. 
Political offices
Preceded by
Darryl Hairston
Administrator of the Small Business Administration
Succeeded by
Jeanne Hulit