“Eyes Open and Antennae Up”: Spotlight on TMC Financing Founder and CEO Barbara Morrison

TMC Financing, one of the top Small Business Administration (SBA) 504 lenders in California and Nevada and second largest nationwide by volume, has helped over 5,000 businesses finance projects worth over $9 billion. These businesses have retained and created over 60,000 jobs. TMC itself employs 46 people, over half of whom are women. Barbara Morrison has been the backbone, the driver, and the life of the company since day one.

TMC began operations in 1981 and founder, Barbara Morrison, remains the company’s CEO to this day. Her vision and drive are reflected in TMC’s accomplishments while being an advocate for small business owners and helping them thrive.

Before TMC Financing

TMC Financing began rather modestly with an all-female staff of six in an unheated warehouse space in San Francisco. Today, it is hard to conceive of how revolutionary that beginning was. Less than four decades ago, women were only beginning to take their places in the financial industry, and Morrison had worked hard to reach that point.

Morrison’s determination and ideals are rooted in her identity as a child of the Sixties. “I knew our generation was going to do something that would change the world,” she told the Financial Women’s Association at an awards ceremony in 2012.

She became aware of gender and economic inequality early on. “My mother graduated from college during the Depression, moved to Washington and became part of the New Deal, opening up Social Security offices. Three years later, she moved back to New England, got married and never worked again,” she recounted. “I knew that I would always work, because I was determined not to be trapped by my mother’s financial dependency.” She described her mother as the person who exerted the most influence on her career.

What is Barbara's favorite quote?

“To love what you do and feel that it matters – how could anything be more fun?” – Katherine Graham

Morrison moved to San Francisco after graduating from the University of Vermont, ready to leave her positive mark on the world. “I had no career script,” she said. “One thing just led to another.” She found herself working in a support position at Paine Webber and, in spite of the fact that the company did not hire women securities traders, her boss paid for her to take the Series 7 exam, the entry level exam for the securities industry. “He did a wonderful thing,” Morrison declared.

What’s Barbara's guiding principal?

The Golden Rule: Treat others as you want to be treated.

A smaller investment firm hired Morrison as its first female broker. It was 1976, and their advanced attitudes toward women had strict limits. Barbara discovered this when she asked the female office administrator where to pick up her business cards, and was told, “We don’t give girls business cards.” 

She was not supposed to be listed with the other brokers in the building’s directory, either. This did not stop Morrison. She got her business cards, and was listed in the directory, although she had to settle for B. Morrison since using “Barbara” was going too far.

After a few years, she began working on her Master’s Degree in Public Policy from San Francisco State University and then got the opportunity to work in the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development. Told that they did not have money for new hires, she said she would work as an intern. When that office introduced the 504 loan program in the city, Morrison was put in charge of running it. “And I was hooked. I’d found what I was looking for,” she said. “And all because I had taken the Series 7 exam. That was all the accounting I knew… All you have to do is keep your eyes open and your antennae up,” she concluded with characteristic optimism.

Barbara Morrison Today

Morrison is endlessly optimistic, she loves to teach and she is full of energy. In addition to running TMC, Morrison cofounded the nonprofit organization Working Solutions, which complements TMC’s activities by providing microloans to small startup businesses that would have difficulty finding bank loans. It also offers extensive education and mentoring for its clients, 60% of which are women-owned businesses. Since 1999, Working Solutions has provided over 500 loans worth over $12 million and educated over 13,000 entrepreneurs, resulting in the creation of 1,900 jobs.

She was also a founding board member of the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center in 1985 and designed a 14-week program to teach entrepreneurship. Today, the center has four offices and it continues to provide business training to people with low and medium incomes.

Morrison has also been involved with the National Association of Women Business Owners, Financial Women Association and Women in Commercial Real Estate. She is a former member of the Harvard Kennedy School Women and Public Policy Women’s Leadership Board and of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. Currently, she is a board member of Working Solutions, an East Bay advisory board member for Presidio Bank, and a member of the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Development Committee.

What book would Barbara recommend to women entrepreneurs?

How Women Lead:  The 8 Essential Strategies Successful Women Know by Sharon Hadary & Lauren Henderson

Among the honors and awards Barbara has received are:

  • YWCA San Francisco and Marin’s Marin Women’s Hall of Fame
  • “Forever Influential” on the San Francisco Business Times list of the Most Influential Women in the Bay Area
  • Financial Women’s Association of San Francisco’s Financial Woman of the Year
  • San Francisco Business Times and law firm Allen Matkins’ Northern California Real Estate Women of Influence
  • San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women’s Women Who Make a Difference Award
  • San Francisco Business Times’ Women in Leadership Award
  • U.S. Small Business Administration’s Women in Business Advocate Award
  • Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s East Bay Women in Business: Business Owner, Founder, or CEO award
  • Coleman Report’s Main Street Lender of the Year
  • ELEVATE Industry Impact Award
  • Most Admired CEO Award by San Francisco Business Journal

TMC Financing operates throughout California with offices in Los Angeles, Roseville and San Jose. TMC Financing also opened its doors to Nevada in 2007.

As a testament to the importance Morrison places on creating encouraging and supportive workplaces, TMC has been named among the Best Places to Work in the Bay Area by the San Francisco Business Times and the Silicon Valley Business Journal in 2015 and 2012, and the San Francisco Business Times’ Bay Area Best Places to Work in 2006. TMC has also received the National Association of Development Companies’ Arthur Goodman Achievement and Diversity Award, continuing Morrison’s mission of breaking boundaries. The SBA has named TMC a Premier Certified Lender.

Barbara Morrison has been a trailblazer of Bay Area finance since the beginning of her career. Her accomplishments are impressive and her influence is felt within her company as well as within the many small businesses she has touched along her way. She has played a part in creating prosperity for tens of thousands of people.