Leadership

Meet Linda McMahon, the wrestling magnate Trump tapped to lead America’s small businesses

Linda McMahon
By Drew Angerer
Linda McMahon

Linda McMahon likes to sit ringside at wrestling matches. Now the 68-year-old co-founder and former chief executive officer of World Wrestling Entertainment will have the opportunity to sit ringside in the Trump administration.

This week, President-elect Donald Trump selected McMahon to lead the Small Business Administration, the federal agency founded in 1953 to serve the nation's small businesses.

The SBA has four main ways that it helps small businesses: providing counseling, guaranteeing loans to small business owners, ensuring 23 percent of federal contracts go to small businesses and serving as an advocate for Main Street in Washington.

In 2012, President Barack Obama elevated the SBA chief position to Cabinet level, giving small business a seat at the executive table.

Who is Linda McMahon?

Trump says he tapped McMahon for her business acumen.

"Linda has a tremendous background and is widely recognized as one of the country's top female executives advising businesses around the globe. She helped grow WWE from a modest 13-person operation to a publicly traded global enterprise with more than 800 employees in offices worldwide," Trump said in a statement on his Facebook page announcing the appointment.

"Linda is going to be a phenomenal leader and champion for small businesses and unleash America's entrepreneurial spirit all across the country."

McMahon grew WWE with her husband, Vincent, who bought the then-regional wrestling business from his father in 1982 after working with the company for a decade.

She stepped down from the CEO role in 2009, but in her time as the chief executive officer of WWE, she led the company's product licensing efforts related to action figures and consumer products, managed international growth of the company and took the company public, according to her LinkedIn page.

She was also responsible for implementing community and charitable efforts at WWE, including educational and literacy programs.

Together with her husband, she learned how to run a business largely by trial and error. "We really didn't have mentors. We mentored each other as we were growing and building the business. But we just learned along the way, and made a lot of mistakes," McMahon said in an interview with reporter Robert Reiss published on her website.

"As a CEO, I want to show women that there are no limits to what they can achieve, whether through entrepreneurship, government, science or any path they choose, and there is plenty of room for women at the top." -Linda McMahon

Running WWE hasn't always been glamorous. "We went bankrupt one time and lost everything," McMahon told Reiss. "When I tell that story at my Women's Leadership LIVE conferences, people are shocked. I mean, our house was auctioned off and the car repossessed in the driveway. We had to start over again."

Today, WWE is a public company with a $1.5 billion market cap and offices in New York, Los Angeles, London, Mexico City, Mumbai, Shanghai, Singapore, Dubai, Munich and Tokyo, as well as headquarters in Connecticut. Its wrestling matches can be seen across the globe: They are broadcast to more than 650 million homes in 25 languages.

The Trump-WWE connection

In addition to having made a sizable donation to Trump's campaign, the McMahons have a long-standing relationship with the president-elect.

Trump was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame as a "superstar" in 2013. WWE events have been hosted at Trump's casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. And Trump frequently attends WWE matches, sitting, unsurprisingly, in the front row.

In 2007, Mr. McMahon challenged Trump to a "Battle of the Billionaires" contest where the winner would shave the loser's head. After McMahon lost, Trump shaved McMahon's head.

Life after the WWE

Since stepping down from the WWE, McMahon made unsuccessful bids for Republican congressional seats in her home state Connecticut in 2010 and 2012.

In the most recent presidential election, McMahon was a vocal and generous supporter of the Republican nominee, donating $6 million to a pro-Trump PAC.


In 2014, McMahon co-founded an event-based mentoring business, Women's Leadership LIVE, which aims to support and educate women entrepreneurs. "As a CEO, I want to show women that there are no limits to what they can achieve, whether through entrepreneurship, government, science or any path they choose, and there is plenty of room for women at the top," McMahon says on the Women's Leadership LIVE website.

As CEO, McMahon observed the reticence of women to promote themselves.

"I found when talking with many other women that they sometimes are more reluctant to toot their own horn, to talk about their success. They have to be more confident in doing that," McMahon told Reiss. "You realize that women sometimes just need a little bit more coaching."

From her newfound position of power in the president's inner circle, McMahon will have a much louder megaphone to coach with.