WASHINGTON (AP) — President-elect Donald Trump is naming former wrestling executive Linda McMahon to lead the Small Business Administration.
McMahon and her husband, Vince, founded and built World Wrestling Entertainment Inc., now a publicly traded sports entertainment company. She stepped down as the company's chief executive in 2009 and earlier this year launched a joint venture, Women's Leadership LIVE, which promotes opportunities for women in business and public service.
She also poured $100 million of her fortune into two unsuccessful bids for a U.S. Senate seat in Connecticut in 2010 and 2012 and has become an influential Republican donor — including to the Trump campaign.
"Linda is going to be a phenomenal leader and champion for small businesses and unleash America's entrepreneurial spirit all across the country," Trump said in a statement Wednesday.
Trump said McMahon shares his vision of decreasing "burdensome regulations that are hurting our middle-class workers and small businesses."
"As an entrepreneur myself, I have shared the experiences of our nation's small business owners and will do my best to advocate on their behalf," McMahon, 68, said in a statement. "My husband and I built our business from scratch, building it to a publicly traded global enterprise with more than 800 employees."
The SBA, best known for the small business loans it makes and the disaster aid it provides to companies and entrepreneurs, is also tasked with monitoring government officials' compliances with contract laws. Its budget is generally under $1 billion. The leadership of the SBA is considered a Cabinet-level position in the current White House and will remain so under Trump.
McMahon's two Democratic Senate opponents had kind words for their former foe.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal called her "a person of serious accomplishment and ability" who can help small businesses as long as "she is not hamstrung by the dangerous economic policies espoused by other Trump-nominated officials." Meanwhile, Sen. Chris Murphy called McMahon a "talented and experienced businessperson" who helped shepherd WWE from an idea into a successful business.
"Of course, I know firsthand what a fierce fighter Linda McMahon is, and though we haven't always seen eye to eye, I have confidence she'll bring that fight to the SBA on behalf of Connecticut small businesses," he said.
Some national small business advocates said they had little experience with McMahon but hoped she would understand the needs of small companies. Connecticut members of the National Federation of Independent Business had supported McMahon when she ran for Senate, NFIB spokesman Jack Mozloom said.
"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.
The Small Business Majority said it would have liked a nominee with more direct small business experience but that it was optimistic McMahon would support companies and their owners.
"We hope that she recognizes the unique role that the SBA plays in providing much-needed capital and support to America's small businesses and that she is prepared to play a strong role advocating for small business needs throughout the government," said John Arensmeyer, the group's CEO.
The contract laws that the SBA monitors compliance with are aimed at ensuring small businesses get at least 23 percent of federal contracting money that is considered eligible for small businesses. The SBA also sponsors small business training and assistance at hundreds of centers across the country. And its Office of Advocacy's responsibilities include challenging government regulations that pose a burden for small businesses.
House Small Business Committee Chairman Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, called McMahon an excellent choice.
"I look forward to working with her and the new administration to roll back burdensome regulations and increase access to capital for America's 28 million small businesses," he said.
Trump wasn't McMahon's top choice for president. She first backed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. But McMahon has known Trump for three decades, and contributed $5 million to Trump's family charity, almost all of it in 2007. He participated in WWE events, including a 2007 "Battle of the Billionaires," during which he shaved Vince McMahon's head.
After Trump secured the Republican nomination, McMahon became one of his most generous benefactors. Fundraising records show she gave $6 million to an outside group that aired supportive commercials and attack ads against Democrat Hillary Clinton. She also gave more than $150,000 to the Trump campaign and his Republican Party partners at the end of September.
McMahon told The Associated Press in September that she was confident Trump would be a good president and said the two were on good terms.
"Once you're his friend, he is loyal to the end," she said. "He's an incredibly loyal, loyal friend."
Haigh reported from Hartford, Connecticut. AP Business Writer Joyce Rosenberg in New York contributed to this report.