Photography by Casey Buckman

After more than a quarter of a century in the business of small businesses, Keith McLaughlin foresees retirement as being rather low-key. Then again, when he created and started managing the Small Business Association program at Union Planters Bank in 1997, he thought he’d only be there for a few years. Now, he is nationally and internationally renowned for his contributions and expertise in the field of small business lending. “I didn’t plan to work very long,” McLaughlin says. “I had planned to retire.”

His own business, America’s Business Brokers, was doing extremely well when David Keller invited him to create an SBA platform at Union Planters Bank. “It just exploded,” he says. “We had all kinds of volume.”

The business was so profitable, McLaughlin’s program became the best in the St. Louis District that year and has remained at the top ever since. “I had the experience having owned a couple businesses and having worked with all these businesses over the years,” he says. “I had the knowledge to help them start and grow and finance them correctly. It worked out very well and was very rewarding.”

Helping small business

In 2004 McLaughlin brought his superior skill to The Bank of Missouri as senior vice president of its SBA lending division. There, he manages and operates the only dedicated SBA lending department in central Missouri. Under his tenure, the branch became a nationally recognized program. By 2006, McLaughlin had a seat on the Executive Committee SBA National Advisory Council. During the recession of 2008, launching and maintaining businesses became a challenging, if not risky, endeavor. The SBA program survived profitably, however, as well as the other 300 to 400 businesses that it helped take root in Columbia.

“That convinced the bank that this was a worthwhile enterprise,” McLaughlin says. “It showed that we were helping small business, we were doing it profitably and that we should go ahead and expand this operation. So we did, and that’s where we are today.”

Loan sizes are growing so companies can survive in today’s increasingly expensive market. Last year, the average loan was around $300,000, but the SBA program at The Bank of Missouri caters to the needs of each small business. Some companies only require the $40,000 minimum, and others use the recently instituted $5 million cap. “In business, what’s behind the name is a family,” McLaughlin says. “And what you do when you’re loaning money to them is you help families succeed. It gets personal in a way. If you put it together correctly, you can help them make it.”

Mike and Amy Monahan, owners of the downtown Jimmy John’s, are entrepreneurs who experienced McLaughlin’s love of family and small business. He laid the foundation for their success when he planted their franchise on the ground floor off Broadway. “I watched them grow it like a weed,” he says. “You get to be a party to that indirectly.”

The Midas touch

McLaughlin’s Midas touch extends beyond the Columbia community. In the midst of the recession, McLaughlin was selected as the nation’s SBA Financial Services Champion of the Year and accepted the award from the U.S. Small Business Administration in the East Room of the White House and got to meet President George W. Bush. Later, in April 2011, he was invited to speak in Moscow to share his knowledge with Russia’s top loan officers. Yet, despite his international acclaim, McLaughlin’s most fulfilling experiences occurred in Columbia. “Being able to see a startup business succeed and be profitable, those are really my proudest moments,” he says.

So, what does retirement have in store for McLaughlin? He plans to continue contributing to boards and committees while writing about his experiences serving small businesses. And, like his unforeseen career in lending, his retirement may reach the world.

The Bank of Missouri will be hosting a retirement reception for McLaughlin November 13 at 5:30 p.m. at 3610 Buttonwood Drive.

Timeline

1988 – Recognized by the Mid-Missouri Business Journal as Someone You Should Know

1993 – Recipient of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year Award

1999 – Recognized by the SBA St. Louis District Office for outstanding support and dedication on behalf of the small-business community

2000 and 2001 fiscal years – Top volume lender in SBA St. Louis District (ranked among the top lenders in the SBA St. Louis District every year since 1997)

2005 – Recognized by the Columbia Business Times as a Person You Should Know

2006 – Served on the Executive Committee SBA National Advisory Council

2008 – Received SBA National Small Business Financial Services Champion of the Year Award in Washington, D.C.

2009 – Recipient of the Columbia Business Times Titan Award for significant contribution to the Columbia community

2011 – Invited to Moscow to speak to officials at the Russian Ministry of Economic Development about SBA programs

 

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