Building a Global Brand on a Solid Foundation: Stephenson Sets Out to Create the Most Efficient Digital Vendor Finance Company
by Rita E. Garwood February 2022
For the first time in 35 years, Bill Stephenson has a new employer, HPS Global Leasing. In this Monitor exclusive, he discusses this unique opportunity and shares his plans to build the most efficient, digital cloud-based vendor finance company with a rapidly expanding global footprint.
After devoting his life to DLL for 35 years and successfully navigating it through the COVID-19 pandemic, Bill Stephenson reflected about what else he could do for the company.
“I always say, ‘If you wake up every morning and you’re not uncomfortable, you don’t have butterflies in your stomach and you’re not a little nervous, then you’re not growing in the role that you’re in’ — that’s where complacency can set in,” Stephenson says. “That’s the death of all motivation and innovation.”
Stephenson knew it was time for him to step down and allow fresh talent and new ideas to emerge in the organization he had led for the last eight years. But what would that mean for his career? Stephenson thought hard about his next step, taking time to sit down and outline the type of organizational structure that would most appeal to him.
He soon found an opportunity that matched his goals at HPS Asset Value Funds, which is managed by HPS Investment Partners, a credit investment firm with more than $75 billion of assets under management. In January, HPS appointed Stephenson CEO of the funds’ global leasing platforms.
“HPS has been very aggressive in acquisitions of leasing platforms in Europe and the United States, most recently with Marlin,” Stepheson says, referring to HPS’ acquisition of Marlin Business Services, which closed on Jan. 20. “We’re going to continue to be aggressive in acquisitions and developing the proper footprint in platforms in order to service our clients.”
The mission of HPS, coupled with its status as an independent player in the equipment finance industry, gives Stephenson the opportunity to build something again. Stephenson says he wakes up each morning with that uncomfortable feeling he had been missing, knowing there is so much for him to do at HPS.
Creating a Seamless Global Entity
In addition to Marlin, HPS’ platforms include PEAC UK and PEAC Europe, B2B lenders focused on supporting small and mid-size enterprises. The platforms collectively operate in 11 countries and currently have balance sheet lease assets of $5.1 billion and annual originations of more than $2.72 billion.
Although plans have not been cemented, Stephenson’s vision involves combining HPS’ three existing platforms with future acquisitions to create a seamless global entity based upon an agile way of working with completely digital cloud-based operation systems and products for its customers at point of sale. Tom Lyle, formerly head of global leasing at Xerox, joined as HPS Global Leasing’s chief operating officer. Lyle shares Stephenson’s vision for the company and will play a key role in its implementation.
“There’s extreme value in sharing best practices and eliminating borders, not only for the advancement and the growth of employees, but also for the ability to look at an organization from a global perspective versus a local perspective,” Stephenson says. “It also enables us to create synergies — not only in operations — and to deliver a more consistent value to our customers.”
Currently, each of HPS’ entities originate in the vendor, direct and indirect channels. Although Stephenson has spent the bulk of his time in the vendor channel, he sees opportunity in all the financial products the platforms currently offer.
“The question is how do we grow it? How do we sustain it? How do we create value in it, and how will the markets respond to that?” Stephenson says. “Our shared ambition is to provide the best level of customer service for our vendors, our dealers, their distributors and direct lessees. We’re not going to be a mile long and an inch deep in financial service offerings. We’re going to be very selective in what we do, and we’re going to be the best at what we do. We’re going to provide the best customer experience.”
Building a Brand with Lessons Learned
Marlin, which serves many of the small business customers that were hit hard by the initial COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, faced numerous challenges in 2020. But Stephenson believes the company has emerged with the strength needed to form a foundational U.S. piece of HPS’ Global Leasing platform.
“Every single leasing company in this great industry suffered during that period of time,” Stephenson says. “We quickly learned which aspects of our businesses worked and which didn’t. We’re going to build on that. Marlin has emerged from this in a very strong position and so have our other entities. From deferred payments and helping lessees maneuver and navigate during these unprecedented times, we learned a lot about ourselves.”
Stephenson has been sitting down with leaders from each platform to learn more about what has worked over the last two years and what hasn’t. Using this feedback, Stephenson will work with his teams to fix or eliminate what didn’t go well and accentuate and grow what did. From there, the platforms will share their results as they create a unified team with a global approach.
“We will continue to build our brand with the lessons learned, and I think that’s invaluable,” Stephenson says. “Very seldom do you have a chance to reset your business model and test it. I’ve been doing this for 35 years and in the last 10 years, we’ve had two massive, unprecedented events, from the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009 to COVID.”
Stephenson, Lyle and their leadership teams plan to create a point-of-sale digital experience, a widely discussed goal in the equipment finance community that few have yet to successfully achieve.
“All of our entities have already begun this journey,” Stephenson says. “We know that everything will be done on a mobile device. It needs to be paperless. It needs to use e-docs. It needs to be seamless from configuring to populating, to approving, to funding and documenting in minutes.”
Stephenson is excited about the possibilities that exist for a company encumbered by legacy systems. “We are agile. We are young. We are small,” Stephenson says. “One of the things that excites Tom and I the most is the opportunity. We are beginning to build technology that our operations and service support people — and our customers — will embrace through speed, efficiency and ease of use. That’s something that we definitely are going to be investing in heavily over this next year.”
Becoming the Most Efficient
Stephenson says he and his team will be looking for new and innovative ways to further expand HPS’ suite of financing capabilities, which will come down to building out its footprint.
“We are definitely in a heavy acquisition mode,” Stephenson says. “We want a solid footprint. We want solid capabilities in the countries and regions that we’re going to support. We will support our vendors, not just locally, but with global program agreements throughout their footprints.
Stephenson notes that the process will come in phases, along with a lot of learning to do on his part. To begin the process, he plans to visit the countries the platforms will support to gauge their capabilities and, most importantly, meet the members of his team.
“I want to understand what keeps them up at night. What excites them? Why do our customers do business with us today? Where do we need to improve?” Stephenson says. “Using this knowledge, we will create a common vision that everybody can get behind. From there, we will really start building our capabilities, embracing opportunities and building the footprint that will enable us to become the world’s most efficient, digital cloud-based vendor finance company.
“We will make our customer experience second to none for the people that we do business with, allowing their salespeople to have a tool that will help them close the customer at point of sale and making it as seamless and as easy for their customer as possible. That’s the vision.”
Looking ahead, Stephenson believes one of the greatest challenges the industry will face is a dwindling supply of human resources. To compete in that environment, employers will need to step up their game to attract top talent.
“We have a great opportunity to create borderless organizations, where the best and the brightest talent that’s out there can work wherever they want to,” Stephenson says. “We’re going to be out there searching for the best and brightest to join an organization that is unencumbered by all the historical impediments that the more senior organizations have. It’s entrepreneurial. It’s exciting. There are no limitations to where we’re going. I think HPS is going to be the destination for the best and the brightest talent in this wonderful industry. I’m looking forward to talking to people who want to join this great journey that we’re about to embark on.”
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