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WomanOf the Month 12-05: Sue Malone

She hates to sleep, believes in embracing change, and loves life. “You should always look for the positive, take the chances, run with the dream, and never let the word ‘no’ get in your way,” says WomanOf the Month Sue Malone. Given that outlook on life, Malone, who markets the Small Business Administration Community Express Loan Program through Innovative Bank of Oakland, Calif., has perhaps the perfect job. She travels nearly non-stop during the week, traversing the U.S. to meet and help fund small business owners and their dreams. Coupled with her devotion to philanthropic causes, the work she does today satisfies her passion and energy as few other jobs would.

Since 2002, 10,800 loans have been funded aimed at a market of small business owners who need $10,000 or less. The loans have a seven-year repayment period, and Malone reports that the success rate for those who qualify is “very good.apostrophe No collateral is required, and the turnaround time to be funded is generally seven to 14 days. These busy entrepreneurs don’t have to furnish a business plan or tax returns to be considered. Working out of an office in San Francisco, Malone markets the program. “I’ve been in coal mines, in treehouses, driven all night in snow storms, visited flood zones, inner cities, seen burnt-out churches that have not been repaired since the race riots of the 1960s,apostrophe she says. “I have seen America. And all these people have one thing in common—they all want to earn a living.apostrophe

At the time of this interview, the Community Express Loan Program was set to expire at year-end 2005. Malone was hoping it would be renewed.

Malone knows from personal experience the value of hard work and the ingenuity and drive born of small businesses. She began working as a fifth grader in the summers in her family’s orchards, packing and cutting fruit in the Sacramento Valley. The work day literally ran from sun-up til sun-down, May through September. As both she and the business grew up, she watched her parents make the shift to a mechanized farming business growing tomatoes, wheat and rice. Along the way, like all youngsters raised in an agricultural setting, Malone learned to drive vehicles by the time she was 10 and became handy at everything from changing sprinkler parts to whatever else needed doing.

Malone earned her undergraduate degree from Golden Gate University in San Francisco and her MBA from St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California. “I have always worked full-time and have always been involved in philanthropy,apostrophe she says today of her career path. First up was a stint as an accountant for a regional real estate firm, where she rose to the position of executive vice president. Believing in giving back to the community, she began working with underserved children, helping those being adopted out of foster care into permanent homes. She also organized parties for children at Juvenile Hall. “Many of these girls had never had birthday or holiday parties,apostrophe she notes. Other work involved arranging tours for children through the Superior Court so they could learn about the Judicial Branch. She also organized mock trials for fifth and eight grades in the Contra Costa public schools.

She was the first woman on the board of directors of the commercial real estate company; women were a relatively rare phenomenon in that industry at the time. “I didn’t even notice I was the only female until someone else pointed it out years later,apostrophe she says. I’ve always espoused that I don’t look at gender, I don’t look at color.apostrophe

After more than a decade, she took a job operating a parking garage company in San Francisco; again, a male-dominated arena. “I learned a great deal—you have to interface with many different organizations, labor, politicians, commerce—it was a challenge. But we were very successful.apostrophe

Her philanthropic work continued, this time in partnership with Dreyers Ice Cream. In a non-profit/ for-profit collaboration, she started up an ice cream store in Oakland to train inner city children in how to operate a small business. The children had to operate the business, refrain from eating all the product (!), keep the store clean, keep their grades up, and fulfill all the other duties of being owners. At the end of the year it was returned to Dreyers to run as a for-profit.

With the sale of the parking business, Malone tried retirement but found she was “terrible at it.apostrophe Six months later, family-owned businesses were calling her for help in taking operations from one generation to the next. Dot.coms wanted help writing business plans. The latter thought she was “too oldapostrophe to be in that industry but they certainly wanted her business contacts and expertise. True to form, she took that as a challenge. She successfully turned around and saved the small businesses who had come to her for help.

At this point in the late 1990s, Malone headed up the World Figure Skating Championships’ branding and merchandising and became involved with the American Cancer Society, for which she has been a major fundraiser.

Noting the small businesses’ common lack of access to capital, Malone approached a friend who worked for the SBA and they developed a streamlined loan with a one-page application. The friend, Tim Jochner, had just purchased the Bank of Oakland and changed the name to Innovative Bank. Together they launched the Community Express Loan Program.

A supportive husband and three children who have always been involved in her philanthropic activities have helped make Malone’s passion for her work possible. “When I started my career I thought I would be an accountant but the world changes, and I believe in always accepting the changes. Everything I’ve been involved with has led me here, and it’s been fabulous.apostrophe

To contact Malone, write to her at or call (925) 381-8409