By speeding SBA, Haskins sped up recovery

Harry Haskins, the deputy associate administrator for investment at the Small Business Administration, led the SBA through the economic recession, insituting a series of internal reforms and external programs that sped up the process for funding and led to the creation of about 63,000 jobs in 2012.

The SBA supports entrepreneurs and small businesses, and loans are made through partner banks and credit unions. Loan repayment times are typically longer through the SBA than direct loans because the SBA guarantees some of the loan amount.

Investment firms can also borrow up to $150 million to put toward small American businesses, under the Small Business Investment Company program. The SBIC licences privately owned investment companies that use their own capital in addition to money borrowed from insitutions with a guarantee from the SBA to invest in small businesses. The list of companies that have grown through the SBIC include Apple, Jenny Craig and Pandora.

Created by President Eisenhower in 1953, the SBA has faced many challenges, including a failed attempt at its elimination by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives in 1996.

Haskins proceeded to bring the SBA through the recession in the late 2000s, when the agency found itself unprepared to stimulate the economic growth that was so needed at the time. As the economic crisis deepened, financial insitutions had also stopped lending money , and so loans from the SBA were even more in demand.

Haskins and his team streamlined the process for applying for funds, cutting down the average waiting time to licence new businesses from 15 months in 2009 to five months in 2012. The agency also gave out $1.9 billion in investment funds in 2012 alone.

“The biggest challenge was keeping the staff motivated and focused,” Haskins said. “Getting them involved more was part of the success of the program.”

Before Haskins, the SBA was notorious for its slow response time to loan applications.

Haskins reorganized the office of about 90 staff members “to better represent the functions of the office, and provided internal promotions to those who deserved them,” said Terri Dennin, SBA’s chief administrative officer. That in turn helped speed up the process for small businesses trying to get their loans.

Haskins simplified the licencing process, making it easier to apply. He also overcame risk aversion from a failed SBA venture capital investment program that was shut down in 2004. The program had lost about $2.5 billion, but Haskins was able to attract investors, turing that uncertainty into licencing four times more investment firms than it did in 2004.

Haskins joined the SBA in 1998 after a stint at the Maritime Administration. It was a year of personal and professional change for him, and he was ready to try something new. He “hit it off” with the leadership at the SBA, and made the move to the loan agency.

Haskins “will never take all the credit,” said his colleague Brett Palmer, who heads the Small Business Investor Alliance. “But he was the key catalyst and the key leader in using the program effectively in the post financial crisis to provide billions of dollars in growth capital to small businesses. He’s a fantastic example of what public service is and what public service should be.”

Haskins has worked for the government since 1975. And after nearly four decades of service, he retired on June 28.

Dennin has been working with Haskins for 14 years. “He’s wonderful,” she said. “He’s very understanding and a very fair manager. We’re going to miss him greatly.”

Haskins has no specific plans for his retirement, apart from a to-do list around the house and maybe moving out of Fairfax, where he has lived since 1983. “Relaxing is the first thing that comes to mind,” he said.

Ever the team player, Haskins won’t take sole credit for the SBA’s success. “The most important thing is that what’s been accomplished over the years has been the work of a large number of folks who pulled together to accomplish things,” he said. “Singling out one individual misses the point.”

 
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