De Lage Landen Walks the Global Talk

by Steve Riggs June 2007

What does it mean to be a “market-oriented” company in our industry? Steve Riggs, who heads up De Lage Landen’s Healthcare Business Unit, and is responsible for global marketing, shares some excerpts from his diary. We hear, in his own words, how this leading vendor finance specialist is truly walking the customer-focused talk.

May 2007 — Week 1
Tuesday: International Program Managers Meeting
My month kicks off with an internal meeting with our International Healthcare Program managers. As part of De Lage Landen’s global approach, we regularly get together to look at customer issues from a worldwide perspective. Today, we’re discussing how to help a major European equipment manufacturer that wants to move into Eastern Europe. The topic of emerging markets comes up pretty frequently these days.

Of course, whatever their geographical scope, all our customers want to be profitable and mitigate risk — and that’s where we, as a finance partner, add value. But a growing number of our partners have a global footprint. They operate in the U.S., Europe and Asia but also in places like Brazil, Mexico, Eastern Europe and Russia.

That’s why in January we decided to structure our organization to better support these global customers at all levels. Even if they deliver their products a little differently in the U.S. or Asia, we can accommodate their needs locally, while still understanding their high-level corporate culture and profit drivers.

This requires us to be mindful of a host of global and local issues, which often come up in these meetings — things like differences in contract law, capital funding requirements and distribution channels, as well as all kinds of social and cultural differences.

Thursday: Preparing for Strategy Meeting in Philadelphia
It’s time to prepare a presentation ahead of our strategy meeting in Philadelphia that starts on Sunday. Everybody, right up to the CEO at our headquarters in Eindhoven in the Netherlands, works in an open office, which is great because it encourages all of us to share and learn from each other.

Sitting at my desk in Wayne, PA, I see it all the time: two sales support people with desks next to each other lean over and say, “How did you do that?” It’s simple, but in a quick moment somebody finds out how to do something a little faster. It enriches what people learn through formal training and helps improve customer service. That’s important, because we don’t talk about “back office.” As far as we’re concerned every external contact, whether it’s sales-related or not, is a moment to provide and measure customer satisfaction.

May 2007 — Week 2
Sunday–Monday: Philadelphia Strategy Meeting
Sunday morning, I arrive in Philadelphia for the three-day strategy meeting with the global healthcare team: the CFO, the chief risk officer, the three commercial leaders and myself. We’ve done a lot of research into global industry growth patterns, which we are going to assess to identify growth opportunities for our customers and ourselves.

There’s a good reason why we’re doing this in Philadelphia. The best strategy is based on understanding your customers’ customers, and there’s no better way of getting credible feedback than going out to those customers yourself.

So we’re starting our session with a tour of the University of Pennsylvania Hospital — the oldest and best in the United States. The hospital spends $40 million a year on medical equipment, and our partners sell equipment to this hospital. We’ll be spending the whole day touring the facilities, seeing the equipment in use and talking to those responsible for purchasing it.

Mid-Week: In Office, Wayne, PA
I’m catching up on calls and getting ready for customer visits in Europe. I travel a lot. No matter how great technology becomes, there’s no replacement for meeting customers and the people you work with face-to-face.

It’s something we encourage all our leaders to do. You can’t understand global customers’ needs sitting in corporate headquarters. To provide relevant services and products, you have to visit your customers, their employees and their customers in the places where they do business.

We also hire local experts and build teams around them. For instance, today I have a conference call with our general manager in Brazil. He’s a widely respected industry leader in the region, who joined us with ten year’s experience in healthcare finance. He knows the local conditions as well as the global issues.

This dedication to local know-how matters. Recently, I was in Switzerland meeting a CFO of one of our major global partners. I was able to look him in the eye and explain that we have people on the ground in Brazil, in Mexico and in Asia. His role doesn’t allow him to travel much, so he really values the fact that we have local experts who regularly go to see his employees and his customers face-to-face.

May 2007 — Week 3
All Week: Europe
I’m in Europe for a series of customer and internal meetings. It’s a chance for some sessions with the committee I’m chairing that’s reviewing our sales processes and communications tools in order to improve our sales effectiveness. Afterwards, there’s a meeting with our marketing people.

We discussed how things have been going since we created our global business units in January and embedded strategic marketing leaders in these units. Part of their role is to communicate information across the organization, so we can bring products and services to market quicker. We also talked about some marketing projects we’re developing jointly with our customers — another way we get close to our partners.

Time to catch up with the management trainee I’m mentoring. She’s in Europe for three months, working on the rollout of some new programs. We expect all our management trainees to have a high level of interest in working abroad. As a company, we try to “export” as many people as possible, so we can develop a consistent corporate culture worldwide. And like me, all our managers mentor and coach young talents.

I greatly appreciate all these opportunities to talk with colleagues. De Lage Landen is very un-hierarchical and I try to be accessible to everyone. I’m happy for anyone to call me or stop by my desk. I have “skip level” meetings with people up and down the organization. By listening like this, you can pick up on good ideas from all parts of the company, sponsor them and help them grow. I believe this is how you get the best out of a business.

May 2007 — Week 4
Sunday–Tuesday: Esthetic Dentistry World Conference, Las Vegas
We’re at a show organized by the world leader in esthetic dental solutions such as implants, crowns, veneers and bridges. They’re also a De Lage Landen customer, and we’re proud to be here at the conference doing business, meeting customers, and processing orders and credit applications with visitors from all over the world.

Esthetic dentistry is a booming market. Although insurers rarely reimburse treatments, people are willing to pay for an attractive smile. The market is growing by 60% per year worldwide, and during the conference we talked to our partner’s senior executives on prospects in Latin America and Asia, and how we can support their growth there.

More than 10,000 dentists attended the conference, but this is a highly competitive market. So our partner looks to us to play a key role in providing funding, supplying leases to dentists and locking out the competition. And in that, our global scope is a vital factor.

May 2007 — Week 5
Monday–Tuesday: In Office, Wayne, PA
I’m working on some actions that came out of De Lage Landen’s global strategy meeting at the end of April. One of the topics raised was the relationship between product development and marketing. We see these as closely linked. By ensuring Product Development and Marketing work together in the right way, we can bring new products to market quickly and at the right time — so they’re profitable for us and add value for our customers.

Naturally, we’re doing this in a global context and there’s a lot of talk in the industry about globalization. But I firmly believe De Lage Landen’s approach is unique. First, we’re making our business simpler and more efficient — something all our customers appreciate. Second, we’re providing a structure that avoids customers having to recreate the wheel each time they move into a new country.

Third — and this is truly special — we’ve moved away from country-level profit and loss accountability. If you have separate P&Ls in each country, it’s all too easy to focus on local profitability and miss out on opportunities. A particular product or solution might not be optimal in one country, but it may add value to our customer’s overall global profitability to implement it anyway. In our structure, we can do this. We take the worldwide perspective, and that’s a major competitive advantage.

End of May: In Office, Wayne, PA
There was a success to end the month as we conclude a deal with the major European healthcare equipment provider that wants to move into Eastern Europe. They approached us originally because of our expertise in Southeast Asia, Europe and the U.S. With this agreement signed, it’s further evidence that our global scope and structure is a valuable asset for us and our partners, and the foundation for future growth.

Steve Riggs HeadshotSteve Riggs is Global Healthcare Business Unit president at De Lage Landen. Riggs began his career in marketing and sales before joining Chase Manhattan Leasing in 1988. He was subsequently VP, National Accounts, Vendor Financial Services, GE Capital in Irvine, CA. He joined De Lage Landen in 1995 as VP and general manager of the Financial Institutions Strategic Business Unit.

De Lage Landen is a provider of high-quality, asset-based financing products to manufacturers and distributors of capital goods. Present in more than 28 countries, De Lage Landen is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Dutch Rabobank Group, which is triple A rated by both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s.

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