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Once told ‘girls don’t get business cards,’ Barbara Morrison builds TMC into major Bay Area small-business lender

When innovators and entrepreneurs approach TMC Financing founder and President Barbara Morrison of Sonoma hopeful to secure the funding that will help them realize their business dreams, she can tap into her own experiences.

Long before she started an East Bay-based finance company that has secured more than $10 billion in Small Business Administration 504 loans for real estate projects throughout California, Nevada and Arizona, she worked in San Francisco City Hall, including the day when Mayor George Moscone and gay activist, Supervisor Harvey Milk were shot and killed by disgruntled Supervisor Dan White.

She was calling over to the mayor’s office from the Economic Development Department on that day — Nov. 27, 1978 — and recalled being stunned to learn the news from someone right after it happened.

“’The mayor has been shot and killed’ someone came on the line to tell me,” she told the Business Journal in a sober tone.

It made her stop and think of how precious life is and how suddenly it all can be taken away.

“I’ve always known I was going to do something that as a career was going to have a positive impact on people and that my career would always matter,” she said.

Characterizing herself as “a child of the ‘60s,” Morrison, 70, was out to save the world.

And if government couldn’t do it or was part of the problem, the future financier who graduated from the University of Vermont was convinced she could rely on her own gumption to pull her through tough times and horrendous obstacles.

Early on, the world of finance intrigued her — despite her liberal arts major. She graduated and went to work in administration at Paine Webber’s San Francisco office, where she developed an interest in becoming a trader.

But she quickly received an education in sexism 101.

Of the firm’s 40 stockbrokers, none was a woman. Still she took and passed the required exam.

“Somehow I talked my way into getting the job, but for incredibly low wages,” she said of her newfound securities broker position.

However, she needed to drum up business and encountered a few obstacles. A no-brainer, business cards needed to be ordered.

“I was told ‘girls don’t get business cards,’” she said, sneering.

Then, she wanted her name on the directory.

“I was told ‘girls don’t get their names on the directory,’” she said.

She even discovered that as a woman she had a “different” benefits package than the men had. Hers came with lessened benefits.

Despite the hindrances, Morrison had a successful run in a male-dominated field before forming TMC with six staffers in 1988.

“The only guy was a receptionist,” she said jokingly.

Now with 74 employees, the firm played a role in securing 1,100 Paycheck Protection Program loans amounting to $105 million just in the first round of funding during the pandemic.

“We all felt like we were,” she said to describe the extent of work her company faced. “So much was happening. We really saw the spectrum of small business. And the need for them was so great.”

Having endured a rocky road to get to where she is today, Morrison empathized with those struggling.

“All the problems we had before — child care for one — came up. So many more women lost their jobs,” she said. “But there is a catalyst.”

That catalyst is one she can recognize. Morrison anticipates many women, forced to stay home to care for their youngsters, will start their own businesses instead of working for “the man.”

Morrison, who at one time was mayor of the Marin County community of Belvedere, is not done.

A subsidiary, TMC Community Capital, has granted $750,000 grants for philanthropic projects through a collaborative agreement with Signature Bank.

In attempting to find the life-work balance while encouraging others around her to also do so, Morrison travels, hikes and renovates her home when she’s not on the job.

But her job represents her real passion in life, because as a people person, it’s the part that matters most to her. Everything else falls into place behind her quest to help others fulfill their dreams.

Chris Glab, owner of Wildbrine in Santa Rosa, declined to say how much TMC Financing loaned his plant-based food company, but said the investment capital was enough to help get the Sonoma County business into the next realm of up-and-coming food trends involving fermentation.

Glab said he was impressed with the TMC Finance account manager who helped him on his project.

“She knew the ins and outs of the rules — and was so responsive, and that’s rare these days,” he said.

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