WASHINGTON, D.C. — After five years at the U.S. Small Business Administration, Jeanne Hulit on Thursday announced her departure from the federal agency to take an executive position at Maine’s Northeast Bancorp.
Hulit, a Falmouth resident, has served for the past five months as acting administrator of the SBA, a cabinet-level position. She took over the SBA’s top job when the previous administrator, and fellow Mainer, Karen Mills, stepped down in August to accept positions at Harvard Business School and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
President Barack Obama on Jan. 15 nominated Maria Contreras-Sweet, a banker from California, to be the next administrator of the SBA.
In an interview Thursday with the Bangor Daily News, Hulit said she was not in the running for the SBA’s top job.
“I was never in contention or requested to be considered,” she said. “I always intended to return to Maine.”
Her last day at the SBA will be Feb. 7. Someone else will assume the temporary job of acting administrator while Contreras-Sweet’s nomination moves through the Senate.
She will assume her new position at Northeast Bancorp, the parent company of Lewiston-based Northeast Bank, on Feb. 17.
Her proper title will be president of Northeast’s community banking division, but essentially that means she’ll be president of Northeast Bank, reporting directly to Richard Wayne, president and CEO of Northeast Bancorp, the publicly traded parent company. Northeast Bank, which Hulit called a “well-respected, growing community bank,” has 10 branches from South Paris to Brunswick, and $512 million in deposits as of June 30, 2013, according to data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
“We are very pleased and excited to have Jeanne leading our Community Banking Division,” Wayne said in a statement. “She brings us great experience and insight about commercial and community banking in Maine, and a demonstrated record of success both as a banker and Acting Administrator of the SBA. We are fortunate to have her as part of our senior management team, as we continue to grow our company.”
Hulit announced her departure in a letter sent to SBA staff.
“When President Obama asked me to serve in this role, I took on this assignment because I believe in what the SBA does and I believe in public service,” she wrote. “I delayed returning home to Maine to re-enter the private sector. The time has come for me to move on from the agency and start the next phase of my career.”
Hulit said her time at the SBA, including the five months leading the entire 3,000-employee agency, has provided her with experience leading a large organization and an “enhanced perspective” of the challenges small businesses face in obtaining capital. Since 2009, when Obama assumed office and Hulit went to work for the SBA, the agency dedicated to supporting small business helped usher along $130 billion in commercial loans, Hulit said.
“I was just thrilled to be able to do it, but equally thrilled to come back and work in my community again,” she told the BDN.
Prior to joining the SBA — first as administrator of the New England region and then as associate administrator and head of its Office of Capital Access in Washington — Hulit spent 18 years in Maine’s banking community. Her previous positions include senior vice president for commercial lending at Citizens Bank, vice president and middle market lender at KeyBank, and manager of Key’s international banking division. Before her banking career, she served as deputy director of the international division at the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development and was a founding member of the Maine International Trade Center.
While she spent her days working in Washington, Hulit said she flew back to Maine every weekend on her own dime. Come February, she’s looking forward to flying much less.
“I’m very excited about being back in Maine and back in the community,” she said. “There’s nothing more rewarding than to live and work in the community you’re from.”