ELFA Innovation Roundtable: Bold Questions & Bringing Innovations to Life

by Monitor Staff Mar/Apr 2023
During the ELFA’s Q1/23 Innovation Roundtable hosted by Deborah Reuben from TomorrowZone, members of the association’s Innovation Advisory Council discussed adopting an innovative leadership mindset, enabling curiosity and ensuring employee longevity.

The Innovation Advisory Council of the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association presented a virtual Innovation Roundtable hosted by Deborah Reuben from TomorrowZone on Feb. 16. The Innovation Advisory Council, which initially began as a working group, is comprised of C-level and senior leaders from across the industry with a mission to create opportunities to explore technology and innovation practices and their current and potential application to the industry. The theme of the Q1/23 event was “Bold Questions & Bringing Innovations to Life.”

Rob Boyer, chair elect of the ELFA and equipment finance group president at First Commonwealth Bank, kicked off the event by noting how important it is for members of the equipment finance industry to be aware of what’s going on outside of their companies. Boyer said the ELFA’s board of directors has adopted a new long-term strategic plan for increasing awareness about emerging technology in the industry.

After hearing from Boyer, Reuben provided an overview of the event, after which

Deborah Reuben, CLFP, Founder & CEO, TomorrowZone

attendees were divided into groups for intro discussions designed to facilitate connection and spark conversations regarding how attendees think about the future of equipment finance.

Innovative Leadership Mindset

Members of the ELFA Innovation Advisory Council, including Jennifer Martin from Key Equipment Finance, Jillian Munson from QuickFi, Moto Tohda from Tokyo Century (USA) and Martin Klotzman from Ivory Consulting, participated in a panel discussion on leading innovation through inevitable disruptions.

Munson noted that the process starts with communicative leadership and timelines that are reasonable. She noted that leaders must be willing to have candid, honest conversations and delegate on the fly, noting that “there is no rulebook for innovation.” Martin said leading through disruption is about exhibiting certain behaviors in everyday

Jennifer Martin, CLFP, Senior Leader of Sales Enablement & Strategic Support, Key Equipment Finance

business. If leaders are empowering their people so they can go into task with their eyes wide open, they can see how disruption can impact their ability to move forward and have the mindset and openness to pivot and move with that change. Martin noted that there may be setbacks but teams will be able to reset and reset often when leadership has given enough rope to move forward.

Klotzman used the example of the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that it caused many to rethink how they support customers. Klotzman said innovation and risk are not mutually exclusive; you can’t innovate without taking risk. He pointed out that not every innovation needs to be made on a grand scale, as micro innovations and small wins add up.

Reuben then posed a question to the group: What are you doing with your team to help them think more innovatively through disruption?

Tohda said helping his team adopt this mindset is easiest when cost and profit are involved, and teams are brainstorming about how to be more efficient. Tohda suggested having the technology team get together with the business team to talk about solutions that would be nice to have and to discuss anything else that is on their minds. Tohda said

Moto Tohda, CLFP, Vice President, Information Systems, Tokyo Century (USA)

doing this provides team members with an opportunity for something that’s completely out of their norm since people usually don’t have the mindset to say something out of context.

Reuben encouraged attendees to remember how professionals and leaders can become future ready, noting that what make us uniquely human is our ability to interact with the answers, meaning a the leader who asks the best questions is the one who gets the best results. Reuben noted that we can transform disruption into opportunity by making space for people to think about questions and come up with questions on their own.


What enables a team to be innovative? Klotzman said it starts from the top down. When leadership encourages employees to think creatively, team members start to behave as entrepreneurs within an organization or intrapreneurs. Klotzman said this approach will give employees more meaning in their work and encourage them to start thinking about new products or features. Klotzman pointed out that the best products don’t always come

Jillian Munson, Vice President, Process and Automation, QuickFi

from the C-Suite. Many innovations, such as the iPhone, the entire Google product suite and the Sony Playstation, came from the employee level.

Munson agreed with the topdown approach as well, noting that leaders are responsible for stacking their teams with people who want to excel. Munson said teams will excel when they feel a sense of curiosity. It’s up to leaders to encourage curiosity in people who were not always encouraged to question everything.

Reuben thought back to her time in the leasing world and remembered an environment in which knowing the answers was more important than asking questions and cranking up the curiosity was seen as a threat. Reuben noted that there’s no faster way to snuff out innovative behavior than by snuffing out questions.

Martin noted that leaders must enable their teams. In an impending recession, leaders must pull different levers — sometimes that may mean moving forward rapidly and other times, the leaders of a parent may tell you to shift gears. Other time, leaders may not know

Martin Klotzman, CLFP, Senior Manager, Marketing and Product Management, Ivory Consulting

what to do next. How can you help your parent meet its strategy? How can you maintain your goals within your new strategy? Over time, Martin said people will see that their opinion actually matters, and you need a lot of those ideas to actually get to the finish line.

Retaining Talent

After another breakout discussion session, the panel reconvened to discuss whether the employee longevity the equipment finance industry has experienced in the past will continue. Reuben said the big questions for panelists to explore were ‘What does the future of equipment finance look like? How are current and impending demographic shifts impacting the future of work? How can we make equipment finance sound cool in order to attract new talent?

Klotzman, a founding member of the ELFA Emerging Talent Advisory Council, said that as much as the industry is shifting age wise, there has also been a shift in the skills that are being brought to the industry. Klotzman noted that marketing teams used to be comprised of copywriters but now contain people who know marketing automation who can also write. Klotzman said AI is the worst it’s ever going to be. Since this technology will only improve rapidly from this point, it’s important to embrace it. Younger talent may bring skillsets with tools like AI into the industry.

Tohda pointed out that technology companies have been laying people off. Many people who were recently laid off are now thinking about how their job can help with their career, which is a mindset shift for tech people. Tohda said many of these people are looking for a comfortable home where they can make a career.

Regarding employee longevity, Munson noted that younger generations grew up differently and Gen Z will work differently in environments that were set up by older generations. Munson said in terms of recruitment, the workforce entering now is obsessed with relevancy, which makes it important for the different components of equipment finance to be known. Munson said equipment finance isn’t just finance; it’s technology, graphic design, product design, UX design. And besides all of those hard skills, the industry is looking for people with soft skills — dreamers, visionaries, people who can build on ideas. Equipment finance is not just finance — it’s a lot of things put together and everyone can find a place in it somewhere.

The ELFA will be presenting additional quarterly Innovation Roundtables in 2023. The Q2 event will focus on Industry Transformation, Discussion and Debate, the Q3 event will explore ESG and the Future of Equipment Finance and the Q4 event will examine Tech Trends and the Future of Equipment Finance. For more information, visit elfaonline.org/events/innovation-roundtables.

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