Coffee Break: Manny Flores, president and CEO of SomerCor
Q: Describe your company.
A: For more than a quarter century, SomerCor has helped entrepreneurs obtain the financing they need to grow their small businesses. Our mission is to be a go-to financing resource to provide greater access to capital, specializing in SBA 504 lending and economic development grant administration.
We are a Certified Development Company (CDC) -- a nonprofit small business lender certified by the Small Business Administration (SBA). SomerCor is ranked a Top 25 National CDC for SBA 504 loans and is one of Chicago's largest 504 loan providers. The 504 loan is a powerful tool that allows businesses looking to expand or refinance a commercial building or equipment to secure long-term financing at below-market rates.
We also offer SBA 7(a) Community Advantage loans, as well as administer the city of Chicago's Small Business Improvement Fund (SBIF) and Neighborhood Opportunity Fund (NOF) grants.
SomerCor, through our partnerships with lending institutions, economic development agencies, and government entities, provides financial solutions with a purpose of business growth, community impact and job creation.
Q: What is one interesting fact about you or your company that most people may not know?
A: SomerCor was founded by a woman in 1992, a time when the financial services industry had few women C-level executives. Last year, SomerCor became the first CDC in Illinois to be led by a Hispanic Chief Executive Officer. Diversity and inclusion are fundamental elements of SomerCor's DNA and it provides us a strong guiding force as we seek to serve all communities throughout Illinois. We know that many communities and neighborhoods have few and limited resources -- our mission is to help fill and bridge the gap so that entrepreneurs regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, and geography (rural or urban) have access to capital.
Q: Do you have a business mantra?
A: We are catalysts for the entrepreneurial dream -- Dream it. Do it.
Q: What will your company's main challenges be in the next year?
A: Our main challenge is to find new ways to educate and inform key stakeholders about the SBA loan programs. There remains a misconception that the SBA 504 loan is a financial option of last resort and overly cumbersome for all parties.
In reality, the 504 loan is a viable option that lenders and small business owners should consider upfront as a tool to help finance the purchase of land, space or fixed assets.
Moreover, CDC's like SomerCor exist to provide expert guidance and facilitate an efficient process for both lending partners and borrowers utilizing SBA 504 financing -- resulting in the borrower accessing capital at a lower interest rate with predictable payments.
Q: From a business outlook, whom do you look up to?
A: I draw inspiration from the entrepreneurs we serve. One of the unique aspects of our business model is that SomerCor is privileged to serve a broad range of businesses from startups to lower middle market companies, all from different industries throughout Illinois. Each one of our clients has her or his special story of why they are in business and what motivates them to grow. As their lender or grant provider, I get to see their work, challenges, and progress closely. I admire these individuals and their companies and am honored to serve them through their journey.
Q: What's the hottest trend in your industry?
A: At SomerCor, we have recently seen a lot of growth in the use of 504 loans for the financing of startup franchises that involve the purchase of real estate or the renovation/expansion of an existing location to meet brand standards.
Franchises are a popular option for first-time entrepreneurs because of their turnkey nature. It is great that SomerCor and the 504 program can support these new business owners access financing in a way that will allow more working capital to be invested back into the business and their employees.
Q: Two people to follow on social media and why.
A: I am a big fan of LinkedIn and appreciate the original content being shared by the SBA and the Leadership First pages. The SBA site provides useful and timely business tips and connects entrepreneurs to helpful resources. I enjoy referring to the Leadership First page for reminders on leadership lessons and guiding principles.
Q: What was your first paying job?
A: My first paid job was being a kitchen aide at Villa Scalabrini, a nursing and rehabilitation facility in Northlake, Illinois. It was my first real-life experience in serving the needs of vulnerable individuals.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
A: I enjoy spending my free time with family. I have two very active children who enjoy competitive sports, dance and scouts. Their activities keep my wife and I busy, but very fulfilled. We know they grow fast, so we cherish the opportunity to see them compete and participate in their favorite activities.
Q: What book is on your nightstand?
A: I just started reading "Self-Compassion" by Kristin Neff. It's important to balance our desire to be the best with also being good to ourselves. It's natural to be critical of one's self when we fall short -- however, we should adopt the perspective of looking at setbacks as lessons and not as failures related to personal imperfections.
Q: What is one funny thing that has happened to you in your career?
A: Once when I was traveling for a job interview, I ended up going to the wrong airport for my flight. At the time, I was living in D.C. and usually flew out of Baltimore as BWI offered more affordable flights. On this occasion, I found a cheaper flight out of Reagan National in D.C. -- a much more convenient flying option. Unfortunately, on the day of my flight, I was in such a hurry I forgot I was flying out of D.C. and instead went to Baltimore as usual. It was funny walking through the airport searching for my gate which did not match my ticket -- I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. I finally gave up and asked for help from a friendly attendant. I recall she was also puzzled by the wrong gate information -- until she finally discovered I was at the wrong airport. This was before 9/11, and I was lucky to have found a customer-friendly attendant who placed me on a new flight at no charge. She got me to my job interview on time.
Q: What keeps you up at night?
A: Making sure the SomerCor teams feels appreciated and maintains its passion for our mission to serve entrepreneurs in their journey to achieving their business goals.
Q: If you were not doing this job, what do you think you would be doing?
A: I've worn a lot of hats during my professional life -- attorney, elected official, state agency head -- but if I was not at SomerCor, I would be mentoring and providing guidance to business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs.
Q: If you could put your company name on a sports venue, which one would you choose?
A: Because our office is a house divided -- both Cubs and Sox fans -- we'd have to split it between Wrigley and Guaranteed Rate Field. Go Sox!
Q: If you had one tip to give to a rookie CEO, what would it be?
A: Be a visionary and adopt a servant leader model. This requires leading by example, developing and inspiring others to achieve personal and collective accomplishments, with a purpose of creating more leaders and achieving enterprise excellence.
Manny FloresPresident & CEOSomerCor601 S. LaSalle St., Ste 510Chicago, IL 60605www.somercor.comIndustry: Small business lender
Number of employees: 25
Family information: Wife Georgina, son Teddy, and daughter Sofia.
Hometown: Northlake, IL