By David S. Wiener

(Foreground) Hillary Gras of Bridge Funding Group and Nick Colvin of BB&T during small group discussions at the ELFA Emerging Talent Networking Event for equipment leasing and finance executives held in Baltimore.

“Building the Next Generation Business” –  the theme of the Fall 2017 Equipment Leasing and Finance Association Convention – is critical for the future of our industry. During each of its scheduled conferences throughout the year, the ELFA is hosting an Emerging Talent Networking Event where young professionals can learn from industry veterans.  At a recent event, I was able to observe the value of these meetings and offer personal advice to the next generation.

Event Highlights

An Emerging Talent Networking Event was held in Baltimore, Maryland, concurrent with the ELFA Credit & Collections Management Conference, and was attended by some 40 equipment finance professionals from across the country who are millennials and in the more formative stages of their careers

It was emceed by Emerging Talent Advisory Council Chair Nathan Gibbons, who is vice president of learning & development at First American Equipment Finance and himself a millennial.  Tony Cracchiolo, the 2017 ELFA chair and president of US Bank Equipment Finance, offered insights on what enabled his personal career advancement.  Chelsea Neil of the Equipment Leasing & Finance Foundation talked about research resources available for personal development.  Reid Raykovich, executive director of the Certified Lease & Finance Professional Foundation, flew in from Washington state to address the value of certification for building a complete set of skills in equipment finance.

The heart of the evening was a series of open forum, small-group discussions enabling emerging leaders to ask any questions they wanted of the leasing industry veterans who served as facilitators.  Their questions included:

  • How do I advance in my career?
  • What do I need to do next?
  • What should be important to me?

After their discussions, each small group reported key takeaways to the larger group, stimulating a cross-pollination of ideas and healthy debate and deliberation.

To paraphrase some of our conversations and my advice here are 11 tips for young professionals in the industry:

  1. Be willing to gain experience in as many functional areas of equipment finance as possible:  sales, credit, documentation, booking, billing, collections, asset management and more.
  2. Soul search about what gives you career satisfaction.  For some professionals, it is a line position.  For others, that may be leadership.  Our corporate ladder climbing paradigm causes us to strive for a more prestigious title or an increase in number of people reporting to us, however, this is not always what is truly satisfying.
  3. Rather than obsessing on mitigating inherent weaknesses, instead consider concentrating your professional development on building strengths into outstanding/distinctive “super strengths.” While it is important to improve weaker skills, the greatest professional gains and satisfaction will come from an intentional commitment to nurture your talents.
  4. Book learning alone is not sufficient for advancing in pricing, credit, documentation or asset management.  Experiences in these disciplines during the formative years pay off later, and genuine experiences in these areas can’t be bluffed.
  5. The taste of lucrative sales commissions can be tempting, but assuming a sales role prematurely may actually stunt personal development. There are plenty of “beginner’s luck” experiences in sales that may not be sustainable without the rest of the requisite leasing skill sets in your personal tool box.  The time spent in a series of apprenticeships in the disciplines of pricing, credit, documentation and asset management are keys to a successful long term career within the equipment finance industry.
  6. Learn to relate to others effectively.  Soft skills in persuasive communication and active listening are lost arts in a wired world.
  7. Overarching everything should be the question, “How can I make my boss … my department … my company … my clients – all more successful?”  In giving others what they want, and then more than what they expected, you are more likely to get what you want.
  8. Create a personal career road map.  Where am I now?  Where do I want to go?  How will I get there?  What skills do I have in my tool belt?  What skills do I still need to develop?
  9. Keep in mind that our respective employers are essentially “renting our behavior” in exchange for salary, benefits, education, personal development, and bonuses.  It is a transaction.  We are not “owed” any “freebies.”
  10. There are times we will find the “traffic is heavy’” (too many others are competing for a desired position) or there are “blocked intersections” (we are unable to advance).  While loyalty is noble, there are times in a career where the right thing to do is change companies.  In addition to that personal road map, keep your resume current at all times.  Occasionally review the tough questions that may be asked in an interview and –as you gain continued career experiences –refresh how you may answer them. Even role play on camera how you would answer them and as you review the recording make course corrections on how you appear (visual), how you sound (vocal) and what you say (verbal).  We never know when opportunity may knock.  And it will most likely knock when we are not expecting it.
  11. Learn from business thought leaders. Books I highly recommend include Now Discover Your Strengths by Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D. and Marcus Buckingham (a past ELFA Convention keynote speaker), and The Platinum Rule by Dr. Tony Alessandra, Ph.D. and Michal J. O’Connor, Ph.D.

Show those you lead, work with, work for, and serve that you have their very best interests at heart.  Execute servant leadership successfully and the opportunities will come to you.

David S. Wiener is a managing director of The Alta Group industry consultancy. He can be reached at dwiener@thealtagroup.com.