Get to Know our New CEO Ellis Carr
Ellis Carr became the new CEO of CDC Small Business Finance April 1, 2021. At the same time, he continues to serve as President and CEO of Capital Impact Partners, a CDFI that champions social and economic justice nationally. Below he shares some thoughts on community and economic development and his vision for helping small businesses and communities thrive.
What led you into the nonprofit world?
Early in my career, I worked in two large for-profit financial organizations (Deutsche Asset Management, Freddie Mac). For Freddie Mac I worked on the financial side of the house (capital markets, corporate finance). Then I moved into a strategy/advisory role for the company. I always wanted to understand the bigger picture, the why behind decisions are made.
Ultimately, I wasn’t fulfilled by just the 9-to-5 part of my life. I started spending time with the Freddie Mac Foundation, which had a program that connected leaders with nonprofits. That led me to volunteer on the board of Martha’s Table in Washington D.C. Eventually, I chaired that organization. While volunteering at Martha’s Table and at my church, I was also mentoring and coaching people after my work days ended. This was my “after 5” job.
My parents were both school teachers. They instilled in me a care and concern for community. I’ve always lived by the mantra of giving back. So in addition to growing my professional skilIs, I wanted to make sure I used my time and talents on things I deeply cared about. In the end, I didn’t want this dual life. I wanted it all in one place. I found it in Capital Impact Partners (Capital Impact) and see it continuing with my work with CDC Small Business Finance (CDC).
Watch: Q+A with Ellis Carr - Part 1
Hear from Ellis on everything from his role models growing up to his first job to his focus on communities.
What’s the passion that drives you?
My passion is helping people and creating opportunities for people. Many times in my life, I’ve been considered the underdog, so I’m constantly fighting for other underdogs. Couple that with a strong passion for justice (doing the right thing, looking out for people) and it emboldens me to work really hard and advance efforts that are in my power.
How did you connect with CDC Small Business Finance?
We met through a mutual consulting company called Next Street which had worked on CDC’s strategic plan. Initially, the conversation was focused broadly on Kurt’s succession. But then our discussions started to revolve around what combining our two organizations might look like, whether there was company culture and mission alignment around how Kurt and I saw the world.
After a while, it began to sink in that CDC and Capital Impact together could do something really special that we couldn’t otherwise achieve independently. We shared a vision to support communities and a desire to combine community development with economic development to give people more tools to create opportunity and build wealth. We found ourselves finishing each other’s sentences and dreaming. It’s been a great ride so far.
How do you view the nexus between small businesses and strong communities?
A decade or so ago I became keenly aware of the Haves-and-Have-Nots dynamic in communities, the wealth gap that becomes even more pronounced when you stratify by race. Finding ways to build wealth in communities became top of mind and at Capital Impact we started looking at ownership as a way to do that. We broke that down into small business ownership and home ownership. Small business ownership is a gateway to building wealth, not only for the entrepreneurs, but in the communities they work in because their businesses utilize other small businesses and they all create jobs for people who live in those communities. So the goal is to help people thrive but also accelerate opportunities for entrepreneurs and the residents they serve.
How does the SBA 504 program fit into the new enterprise?
The 504 program is extremely important for building wealth through both small business ownership and real estate ownership. I’m really encouraged about being able to leverage relationships to help CDC create an even stronger impact for small business owners looking to purchase commercial real estate for their businesses.
SBA 504 lending will be a priority as well as other commercial real estate-secured small business lending that falls outside of SBA. In short, we want to provide a continuum of lending products to small businesses as their financing needs evolve and grow, with the ultimate hallmark product being 504.
With our new enterprise, our focus overall will be on caring about people and addressing the racial wealth gap through a combination of advisory services, technical assistance, 504 and a full spectrum of complimentary lending products.
Watch: Q+A with Ellis Carr - Part 2
Ellis shares the causes he is most passionate about, his favorite albums and more.
Can you share more about the SBA Community Advantage loan and the pilot projects?
We identified three cities – Los Angeles, Detroit and Washington D.C. – where we want to use a holistic approach to test how our two organizations can and will work together going forward. We’ve developed teams that are now engaging other CDFIs, CDCs, government leaders and nonprofits in these cities to identify priority needs so we can collaboratively develop a pipeline of products and services to support those communities and help small businesses.
A focus of our work is on helping more small business owners in each pilot city access capital through the SBA Community Advantage loan. For example, remarkably, there were only two SBA Community Advantage loans in Detroit in the previous five years and less than a handful in D.C. over the last few years. This speaks to the level of lending and technical assistance opportunity in those communities. In fact, we’re also looking to hire a business advisor in Detroit to better prepare small businesses to take on capital from us and continue to operate effectively.
What’s your take-home message to your new CDC Small Business Finance family?
Everything starts with caring for people and communities. It carries through to the work we do, whether that’s small business creation and growth or providing communities with the support and facilities they need to survive and thrive. I want to make sure folks clearly understand where we’re headed and can see themselves solidly contributing to the direction both of our organizations really care about.
One of the cornerstones of both CDC and Capital Impact is culture. We are both rooted in purpose, caring and impact. I am excited to share my passion to make a difference with CDC’s staff, partners and borrowers.
Both our organizations are also well known for exceptional customer service and treating people with dignity and respect. We’re going to double down on that. Overall, we want to lead with our heart and our values, which will insure we stay focused on the right things.