Our Story

Karen and W. Edwin Small

“It’s a Small World after All” The Karen & W. Edwin Small Story.

It’s the enthusiasm that strikes you first. Karen and Edwin Small simply love what they do! They have been able to help hundreds of companies that are not much different than their own.

During the credit freeze of 2008 to 2012 many small business owners had their lines of credit closed by the local or regional Bank and found it nearly impossible to find sources of working capital. The heartbeat of every small business is CASH FLOW and the ability to properly administer their accounts receivable. “We can help when the Bank’s cannot, which makes our job very rewarding”, states Karen. “We started from our kitchen table in 2000 and have the ability to relate with many of our fellow Entrepreneurs. As a growing family business, we faced many challenges over our 18 years of entrepreneurship, and it’s our goal to offer these experiences to our clients today.”

Karen and Edwin have similar professional backgrounds. They both have degrees in accounting, and worked their way up the corporate ladder at Michigan National Bank in the 1990s. As high school sweethearts, they both worked while attending college, married and had their first home purchased before they were 25 years old.

Edwin states, "My old boss told me, 'Half of what you earn is what you learn in this job!' Back then, I thought, well, this is not going to serve me well when I go to the car dealership to purchase a new vehicle. Karen and I learned so much through client visits evaluating their collateral trends and learning the heartbeat of the asset conversion cycle in the balance sheet: Cash, Receivables, and Inventory.”

“Starting any business is high risk,” says Karen, “but maybe that’s what helps us relate so well to our clients. We understand the anxieties of meeting payroll, and we know what it’s like to take work home at night.”

Since 2000 their business has steadily grown. Both claim their success is the result of the other. “I never would have been able to do half of this without Karen,” says Edwin. Karen adds, “He’s the visionary; he can see opportunity and place controls in place to manage the elevated risk in a transaction. Often you have to work harder than the banker to get a deal done. He has mastered how to structure a deal and has a true gift, listening to what the prospect's CASH FLOW needs are and finding the right product or vehicle at Sterling that will complement their American Dream”.

And how are they able to buck the conventional wisdom that suggests a marriage and a business is a lethal mix? “We complement each other,” says Karen. “We both bring different assets to the table. I’m more detailed oriented, while Edwin is more about the big picture and very goal oriented. When we brainstorm together, he’s the one who’s rattling off the ideas while I’m jotting everything down on a yellow notepad and figuring out how we’re going to make the ideas happen. Together, we execute! It works.”

Anyone who knows Karen and Edwin knows their marriage works as well as their business. Proud parents of two young sons, Maverick Daniel and Grant Edwin, their family is as important a priority as the business. “Both kids like to hang out around the office on the weekend and get paid for shredding documents or other small office tasks,” adds Karen. “In the book {The Purpose Driven Life}, we defined early in life that our purpose is to use our expertise in lending to breathe life into the American Dream and not only support our family, our staff’s family, but our clients, their employees, and their vendors. When someone asks me the size of our staff I often state it reaching close to 10,000 as this illustrates the families we are helping every day at Sterling! It’s one big family tree. Sterling’s funding of millions of dollars of invoices each week supports a growing number of families. That’s just the way we see things.”

And what’s the future for Sterling? Both Edwin and Karen emphasize mastering the fundamentals as the way to keep Sterling relevant for years to come. Edwin says, “Relationships are simple and remind me of a prayer my mom said to me every morning and now is one I pray to my boys before they go to school: 'Be a friend to someone who needs a friend and treat everyone the way you want to be treated!' That’s what it’s all about. If you master the fundamentals and build relationships, growth and profit will take care of themselves.”

And every year brings another year of valuable experience. “After twenty plus years in the industry we have seen it all” says Karen. “We know business models. We understand the important drivers of a manufacturing company and how their specific needs are different that from, say, a trucking company.” Edwin jokes that by now, if you give me a SIC code, balance sheet, and A/R aging, he can tell you what the girl in accounts payable is wearing on Thursday. We’re becoming old hands at this. We know CASH FLOW; we have vehicles and programs that can help the growing entrepreneur.”

But then again, as Karen is quick to point out, “We know you better than a bank could know you because we’ve been in your shoes.” How committed is Sterling to their clientele? Edwin likes to point to a quote he jotted down on the back of a business card back in May 2000 while on a client assignment. The card remains taped to his desk and states: You can’t build a reputation based on what you say you’re going to do. "And based on the last 16 years, we’ve got a pretty good reputation," he says. "You might even say it’s a Sterling One!"