Being a leader in today’s equipment finance industry takes a sense of purpose, advocating for oneself and being flexible. Amy Gross, executive vice president of the commercial vendor and government divisions at Key Equipment Finance, says being a parent while working full-time is the best on-the-job training you can ask for as a leader. Learning to negotiate, playing hurt because the game needs your focus, writing the manual while reading from it — Gross says the experiences of parenthood today will force you to realize your true potential as well as your strengths and weaknesses. The same lessons learned from parenting are transitive to the core of what it means to be a good leader. Leadership, as Gross puts it, is just working with what you have and making the best decision you can with the information you’ve got and then rolling with whatever punches come your way.
A Sense of Purpose
Like being a parent, being a leader provides a sense of purpose. Gross draws great inspiration from what Key Equipment Finance says and does in its day-to-day operations. Whether it’s financing a firetruck or similar emergency response vehicle for a local municipality or helping a small business get off the ground, the impact of the company’s work is palpable. Believing in the good your company does is very important for Gross’s employees to understand — they are helping clients solve real-world problems.
Getting to Know You(rself)
Gross has been with KeyBank since 2009, but prior to that, she spent 17 years with GE Capital where she started off as a financial analyst at an entry level position. After almost five years in that role, she moved into a sales position where she discovered her passion for closing deals. In that role, Gross learned more than just sales, she learned the ins and outs of the business, the industry and how deals were originated. After dipping her toes into that role, Gross’s career took off as she continued onto leadership roles.
Once again in a situation where there was no manual for the path ahead, Gross built a team within the government and vendor division of GE Capital and took the company to new heights. But it wasn’t just a sense of purpose, advocacy for oneself and flexibility combined that would pull Gross through her first few leadership roles. Having great mentors within the industry has shaped Gross into the leader she is today. “I certainly learned that when you find the right connections, personally, that those mentors can become cheerleaders for you and can absolutely give you great advice on your career and help you get to the next step or the next thing that you aspire to,” Gross says. “And I think the key to that as an individual is really being honest with yourself about skills you might need to develop or work on and buckling down and making that commitment to yourself.”
Knowing yourself is an important lesson learned by Gross, as she says the realization that no one else will advocate for you but yourself left an indelible mark on her vision as a leader. Since that realization, Gross makes it a point to not only advocate for herself, but to aggressively think of her career in a strategic sense. If she needs to make a lateral move to learn a business within her company, her goal is to think three steps ahead about how to do that and what she can learn from that experience. Change is subjective to how ready you are for it, so it really boils down to a matter of perspective. At GE Capital, systems and methods would change every year or two, causing some to panic or lose productivity, but it was there that Gross learned to relish in change as it allowed her to learn new and exciting things on a regular basis. Realizing not everyone is comfortable with rapid and constant change in the same way as her, Gross approaches change in the workplace with a softer hand at Key Equipment Finance. The importance of maintaining a solid balance between work and life has become invaluable in a post-pandemic economy. Helping her employees know themselves,adapt and advocating for them, each on an individual basis, throughout and after the COVID-19 pandemic is what’s been important to Gross as a leader.
“As a sales leader, Amy brings unique skills to the role such as her ability to listen deeply to client needs, the ability to place major focus on building quality relationships and a high level of emotional intelligence which helps to establish a sense of calm needed to overcome challenges,” Jennifer Martin, CLFP, senior vice president of enterprise support and sales enablement at Key Equipment Finance, says.
The Key to Success is Flexibility
Flexibility, another trait learned the easy or hard way through raising children, is what Gross credits her success to. Likening her spirit to a tree blowing in the wind, she says the key to surviving that wind is being strong while being able to bend. Even the strongest trees with the strongest cores bend with the wind; they adapt to survive. So, how do you tap into your inner tree and bend with the wind? The key is having an open mind and being willing to try new things as well as taking setbacks in stride. Both things are easier said than done, of course, but it’s the fastest route to achieving growth as a business. When something unexpected happens, regroup and learn from it. The unexpected exists in grey areas, but so does ingenuity, as Gross explains, “Ingenuity happens in the gray areas — it doesn’t happen in the black and white. And if you live in the black and white, you’re really going to struggle with growing and innovating in your business.”
Be the Change You Need to See
The need for adaptation as a means of survival is not limited to leadership roles. Gross believes the industry needs to continue to work on diversity within markets. The focus and attention are both present, but lenders need to branch out and make a real effort to work with and advocate for historically underserved populations and demographics. Things are starting to change for the better, as Gross has noticed a changing crowd of faces at conferences and events, but there is still a long road ahead in reaching an optimal level of diversity within the equipment finance industry.
“Amy was one of our very early KeyBank DE&I champions, acting as co-chair from 2016 through 2018 ,” Mark Casel, senior vice president of program development at Key Equipment Finance, says. “Her early involvement helped our associates understand and support this important initiative well before tragic events greatly broadened awareness across most companies.”
Gross plans to continue to make a difference and to continue to be in a position where she can grow as a professional while leading a fantastic sales team into the future. She wants to make a difference for the next generation before ending her career and will continue to stay in sales because she admires its elasticity. “I love leading sales teams, they’re lively, they’ve got such grit,” Gross says. “If they fall down, they get back up, they have great ideas and I especially love working with younger people in our industry. The more that I can leave lasting impact and a legacy to that, whether it be through connections in the industry or impact through the ELFA, that would be success in my book.”
To future leaders, Gross says it loud and clear, “Speak up!” Find the leaders in your business who will listen to you and your ideas and talk to them. Start the conversation and keep it going.
“Come to the table with ideas relating to your own career, take chances, take those risks and expect that mistakes might happen, but learn from them and course correct and do it differently the next time around,” Gross says. “And if you’re thinking about what that next position might be for you, act like you’re already in it. Show them you can do the job before you’re even in it and people will pay attention to that.”
Ian Koplin is an editor of Monitor. Rita E. Garwood, editor in chief, interviewed Amy Gross for this article.
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