Linda McMahon finds a smooth ride from WWE to SBA

McMahon, who helped grow the wrestling empire into a multibillion-dollar enterprise, has had a smoother ride than the

It’s too bad President Donald Trump isn’t borrowing a page from Linda McMahon, his longtime pal whom he appointed administrator of the Small Business Administration.

If he did mirror her management style, he might be having an easier time on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. instead of the tweet-filled bumper car ride he’s had with the mainstream media, Democrats and even some members of his own party.

You get more with sugar than salt, as my late grandma used to say.

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McMahon, former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), who helped grow the wrestling empire into a multibillion-dollar enterprise along with her husband, Vince McMahon, undoubtedly heard that saying, too.

The pair are royalty in pro wrestling, which has a huge following in Detroit and other towns.

Linda McMahon is hard-working and gets things done.

Which is why Trump nominated her for the SBA post. She’s one of the highest-ranking women in his administration.

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President Donald Trump with Administrator of the Small Business Administration Linda McMahon and Ivanka Trump, delivers remarks during a small business event at the White House in Washington on August 1, 2017.  (Photo: SHAWN THEW, EPA)

Now she championing on behalf of the almost 29 million small businesses in America.

“When he asked me to take on this job, he said, ‘I have one request. Do a good job,’ ” she said.

Like Trump, she’s been navigating the leap from an ultra-successful executive to government employee.

Her ride’s been much smoother. She talked about the transition.

“They are two different things, running a company versus a government agency,” she said. “When you have a public company, your responsibility is to the shareholders. With an agency, the responsibility is to the taxpayers. The American people are who we strive to please.”

Friends since the '80s

The McMahons have been friends of Trump since he invited the high-profile couple to a Rolling Stones concert back in the 1980s.

Trump became an ardent supporter of the WWE and was later inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. He and Vince McMahon have hammed it up in the ring — with Trump once shaving McMahon’s head after he lost a “Battle of the Billionaires” bet in 2007 during the WrestleMania 23 event held in Detroit.

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Donald Trump and Bobby Lashley shave the head of Vince McMahon after the Battle of the Billionaires at WrestleMania 23 at Ford Field in April 2007. (Photo: Kathleen Galligan, Detroit Free Press)

Vince McMahon has received much acclaim for the success of WWE. Linda McMahon’s been there, too, handling business, merchandising and creative marketing deals that propelled WWE’s revenues.

A Sports Illustrated article from 1991 talked how they grew WWE as they acquired smaller promoters.

Survival of the fittest, Darwin would say.

Winning, is how Trump would likely describe it.

I spent time with the affable 68-year-old mother of four and grandmother of six when she stopped in the Motor City on July 26.

She has embarked on an aggressive schedule of visiting all 68 SBA offices to learn more about small business’ concerns and also talk up the services of the agency.

“My goal is to spread the word about the agency and all the support it gives to the engines of our economy — small businesses,” she told me. “It’s one of the best-kept secrets for their success. That’s why I’m doing this SBA Ignite Tour to spread the word and spark the knowledge.”

We talked about a variety of topics.

We also drove in an autonomous hybrid Ford Fusion, thanks to Paul Fleck, CEO and founder of Dataspeed in Rochester Hills.

She also visited with female business owners to hear their concerns.

And she wanted to learn more about the new technology driving autos. Fleck and his company were happy to oblige.

Fleck was behind the wheel of the Fusion, driving us in the car. His hands were not steering as the autonomous controls took over.

We drove around the parking lot of CBS 62 as McMahon answered a few questions. She also asked Fleck about the new technology. You can watch the video here.

“I am absolutely a car girl! I love my red retro Thunderbird convertible,” she said. “And I also have a Cadillac Escalade.”

McMahon met Mary Barra, CEO and chair of General Motors, during a business roundtable they were part of that Trump set up earlier this year.

“She has worked her way up and definitely earned her position as CEO,” McMahon said of Barra. “It is always great to see a successful woman at the top of a business.”

As we talked in front of CBS 62 and then inside to tape “Michigan Matters,” numerous people stopped by to take a selfie or shake her hand. She politely accommodated.

After our interview, Kris Kelly, community affairs manager at CBS 62/CW50, came up to McMahon and explained how much WWE meant to her because she bonded with her new son-in-law, a huge WWE fan, while they watched the TV show as she recovered from cancer surgery. Kelly began tearing up as she told the story. McMahon quickly reached into her purse and offered some Kleenex.

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Kris Kelly of CBS 62 with Linda McMahon, administrator of SBA and former CEO of WWE, at the station on July 26, 2017.  Kelly is among the millions of fans after watching WWE  events with her son-in-law as he helped take care of her during  recovery from cancer surgery two years ago. (Photo: SBA)

McMahon and I talked about why more women aren’t getting ahead in corporate America.

“Women are making strides, but the more help we can give them the better,” she said. “I met with a group of women-owned small businesses in Detroit and what was amazing to see was their willingness to help each other. These women came from across several different industries — manufacturing, retail, and engineering — and were practically strangers until they met. What’s interesting is at the end they were all sharing information, tips on how to succeed, etc.”

“It’s woman power and that is, in part, what it will take,” she added.

McMahon played sports in her younger years, something she believes helps men and women become more effective leaders.

“The sports connection is about a team and how all have to work together to make the organization or business successful,” she said.

McMahon has been in Detroit before during her WWE career. I asked if any moments stood out.

“My most memorable visit to the Detroit/Pontiac area was for WWE’s WrestleMania III at the Pontiac Silverdome in 1987.” She said. “There was a record crowd of 93,173 fans.”

Statistics resonate with the CEO  — even 30-years later.

I asked what she thought of Trump’s first six months in office.

And as a smart, no-nonsense female executive who supports other women, I also politely asked what she thought of some of the less-than-flattering things Trump has said about women.

 

Like a pro wrestler working the ring to keep ahead of the opponent, McMahon told me she had been so busy, she hasn’t paid much attention to what he has said.

She kept on message.

“The president is a very smart and an insightful executive and businessman,” she said. “And, to the economy’s benefit, very focused on small businesses and their success, so that’s a win for all. He, like me, is dedicated to making the government effective and efficient.“

She went on to list things he is focusing on like reducing regulations that burden large and small businesses and also pursing tax reform.

“These are some of the top concerns I hear from small-business owners across the nation and President Trump is working to fix just that,” she said.

She never mentioned fake news, and didn’t bash me and my questions via tweets.

It was just the facts as she headed off to the next town as she continued to generate positive publicity for the SBA and helping small businesses across the land.

 

 

Carol Cain can be reached at 313-222-6732 or clcain@cbs.com. She is senior producer/host of “Michigan Matters,” which airs at 11:30 a.m. Sundays on CBS 62. See Denise Ilitch, Charlie Beckham, Randy Richardville, Jennifer Onwenu, Cynthia Jackson, Mary Beth Kiley and Dan Clinton on today’s show.

 

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