As President-elect Joe Biden continues to fill out his cabinet, he's expected to pick Isabel Guzman for the top job at the U.S. Small Business Administration.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that Guzman, a former deputy chief of staff at the SBA during the Obama administration, would replace Jovita Carranza as administrator. Under Obama's tenure, the role was elevated to cabinet level, a sign of the import of small businesses to the nation.
While Inc. has yet to sit down with the incoming administrator directly, Guzman, a Latina, is widely considered to be up to the task of running an agency that has become increasingly vital for the health and wellness of the nation's millions of small businesses.
"I don't know her well, but based on my other small business colleagues who do, as well as her reputation in general, Isabel will be a solid fit to lead the SBA," says Karen Kerrigan, president of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, a nonpartisan advocacy group in Vienna, Virginia. Guzman, Kerrigan adds, is a strong advocate for small businesses and entrepreneurs, and she understands the extraordinary challenges facing small businesses right now.
Those challenges are indeed steep. While Administrator Carranza shepherded the SBA through the pandemic and overcame the choppy roll-out of the Paycheck Protection Program, the forgivable loan program that helped more than five million U.S. small businesses lasso $525 billion in aid, the work is far from over. As many as four million U.S. businesses are expected to have closed in 2020, according to Ray Greenhill, president and founder of Oxxford Information Technology, an information services firm in Hagaman, New York, which tracks about 32 million businesses. And the latest Covid-19 relief program is poised to kick off any day. The renewed PPP, which offers $284 billion in loan funding for U.S. small businesses, is expected to be more complex than Round 1, as it allows a second draw for companies with significant revenue losses. That's on top of millions of businesses needing to apply for loan forgiveness and the slate of other aid programs manned by the SBA directly.
But Guzman has demonstrated enthusiasm and a high metabolism for the work needed to help entrepreneurs and small businesses. After her stint at the SBA under Obama, she served as the director of California's Office of the Small Business Advocate. There she most helped implement a grant program for businesses affected by the pandemic.
Prior to joining the SBA, Guzman founded two businesses, including GovContractPros, a government contractor consulting firm in Chevy Chase, Maryland, which boasts on LinkedIn of helping "government contractors access and navigate the $500 billion federal marketplace with proven expertise." Earlier in her career, she had worked in strategic initiatives at ProAmerica Bank, a commercial bank in Los Angeles for small and midsize companies seeking growth capital. Former SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet is the founder of ProAmerica Bank.
Guzman's LinkedIn profile further says she's an alumna of the University of Pennsylvania, where she received her bachelor's degree from the Wharton School of Business.
While Kerrigan and her colleagues are quick to offer an appraisal of Guzman, they also had some choice advice: "It is critical that the next SBA leader find a way to engage with leaders of the small-business community and associations on a regular basis," says Kerrigan. Her reasoning: By giving the small business community a seat at the table, she'd be doing just what Obama did by giving the SBA a seat in his cabinet. "Isabel has proven that she is adept at this type of engagement and inclusiveness, and I hope she continues to practice these attributes once confirmed as SBA administrator," adds Kerrigan.