Can a wrestling executive lead the Small Business Administration?

Linda McMahon lost two bids for US Senate, but grew WWE from 13 employees to an international company that posted $659 million in revenue last year. 

Mike Segar/Reuters/File
Linda McMahon speaks to the news media after meeting with President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York, Nov. 30, 2016. Ms. McMahon has been tapped to lead the Small Business Administration.

Linda McMahon first made a name for herself by turning a wrestling entertainment operation with 13 employees into a publicly traded international company.

Now, the co-founder of World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (WWE) has been named the head of the Small Business Administration (SBA), President-elect Donald Trump announced in a statement on Wednesday.

“Linda has a tremendous background and is widely recognized as one of the country’s top female executives, advising businesses around the globe,” said Mr. Trump.

The budget of the SBA, which is best known for its small-business loans and disaster aid, is generally under $1 billion, and the agency does not have oversight over the Affordable Care Act and other regulations that affect small businesses. But the nomination of Ms. McMahon (the Senate must confirm her) offers a window into Trump’s commitment to stimulate job growth and bolster businesses.

In the statement Wednesday, Trump said McMahon shares his vision to decrease “burdensome regulations that are hurting our middle-class workers and small businesses.”

McMahon is known for growing WWE with her husband, Vince, as well as her two unsuccessful bids for Senate. She and her husband transformed WWE into an international company with 800 employees. After she stepped down as chief executive in 2009, the company posted record revenue last year of $659 million, according to The Washington Post.

After first serving on the Connecticut Board of Education, McMahon ran unsuccessfully for a US Senate seat from Connecticut in 2010 and 2012. Earlier this year, she also launched a joint venture, Women’s Leadership Live, which promotes opportunities for women in business and public service.

While the SBA offers small-business loans and disaster aid, it also monitors government officials’ compliances with contract laws. It does so by partnering with banks and credit unions to lend to small business, advocating for the country’s 28 million small businesses. It also has a Women-Owned Small Business Certification Program.

The current administrator of the SBA, Maria Contreras-Sweet, drew her experience from the private and public sector. She was the executive chair and founder of Promerica Bank, which focuses on small to mid-sized businesses with a specialty in the Latino community. Unlike McMahon, however, Ms. Contreras-Sweet also held multiple posts in government before she led the SBA. She was the California secretary of business, transportation, and housing under Gov. Gray Davis (D). Four other SBA administrators in addition to Contreras-Sweet served President Obama.

While national small business advocates said they had little experience with McMahon, Connecticut members of the National Federation of Independent Businesses supported her when she ran for senate, NFIB spokesman Jack Mozloom told the Associated Press.

"Her views with small business aligned very well with our views. If that indicates what kind of SBA administrator she'll be, that'll be good," Mozloom said.

But Rep. Nydia Velázquez of New York, the top Democrat on the House Small Business Committee, didn't share the same excitement.

“This selection is proof that President-elect Trump’s commitment to small businesses is about as ‘real’ as professional wrestling,” she said in a statement. “I am concerned her appointment follows a pattern of choosing individuals for cabinet-level positions who do not have the policy knowledge for the job.”

McMahon’s ties to Trump go back to the 1980s, when WWE would hold a pay-per-view event at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, New Jersey. She and her husband gave $5 million to the Trump Foundation family charity and contributed more than $6.5 million to Trump’s presidential campaign, according to The Washington Post. She did, however, first support New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in the Republican primary.

If McMahon is confirmed, she will also hold the distinction of being only the cabinet member to ever survive a “stone cold stare” from wrestler Steve Austin and a "tombstoning" from wrestler Kane, a move so dangerous it has largely been banned, according to The Washington Post.

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters. 

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