Leadership Development: Equipment Finance’s Torchbearers Of Tomorrow

by Rita Garwood May 2021

The equipment finance industry is on a path of transformational change. With the industry’s founders retiring en masse and technology taking a greater role throughout every aspect of the business, it is vital to develop leaders of tomorrow who can take calculated risks, think and behave differently, communicate their vision, and guide their businesses into the industry’s next chapter. Monitor Publisher Lisa Rafter created a leadership program to do just that.

Lisa Rafter,
CEO & Founder STRIPES Leadership Program,
STRIPES Leadership Program

Lisa Rafter’s daily work as publisher of the Monitor involves sitting down with equipment finance leaders to talk about everything from current trends to strategies for making the industry resilient to disruption and relevant in the future. In between calls one day last spring, Rafter had an important realization: The industry needs an equipment finance-specific program to develop the industry’s future leaders, thinkers and ambassadors.

“We have technical training, like ELFA’s Principles of Leasing and the Certified Lease & Finance Professional certification, but not a program specific to equipment finance that truly develops people,” Rafter says.

“So, I decided to create one! This idea became really exciting, not just for me and my team, but for everyone we talked to.

We thought who better in our industry to take this on than the Monitor. We know this industry. We talk to people in the industry every single day. We interview them, prep with them for livestream panels and question them on roundtables.

Susan Campbell, Executive Director, STRIPES Leadership Program

So, we decided to take our industry knowledge, resources and relationships and create a state-of-the-art equipment finance leadership program.”

Transformation is Underway
With this inspiration in mind, Rafter and her team quickly got to work, setting out to explore how people in the industry were thinking about the future. In partnership with Gap International, a company that has partnered with leaders of some of the world’s greatest corporations to reach their ambitions and outperform what is expected, Rafter and her team conducted four focus groups with a variety of industry leaders, ranging from emerging talent to the C-suite.

The focus groups and subsequent conversations with more than 30 industry executives made it clear that industry leaders were excited about the possibility of an equipment finance leadership development program. The graying of the industry has been a concern for many years as the founding members of equipment finance have begun to retire.

At the same time, the industry is rapidly evolving to become more technology- based, and companies must continuously innovate and think creatively to live up to the evolving needs of today’s customers. Development of new, more diverse leaders who will be able to guide their businesses into the industry’s next chapter and beyond is essential for the continued success of equipment finance.

Disruption can happen to any industry, and if you take a close look at the disruptors, they frequently come from outside an industry. Why is that?

“Our industry is not good at producing the kind of leaders we need now,” Bill Verhelle, CEO and founder of Innovation Finance, says. “The hierarchy and the organizational design and the incentives we’ve had for a long time have created a certain kind of leader that can rise up in the ranks. It does not really foster the skills of thoughtful risk taking.”

Through the focus groups, Rafter and her team learned most companies in the industry have developed cultures designed to eliminate risk rather than manage it. But as the industry shifts from traditional leasing products toward subscription and usage-based models, the organizational designs that were originally constructed are no longer relevant.

Tearing down the old models and building something new will take creativity and diversity of thought. If today’s leaders choose successors who look and think like them, the business will continue along the same trajectory as well.

“In the industry, we’ve been doing the same thing for a long time. We’ve been a successful industry, so there’s a lot of folks who have a ‘don’t fix it if it isn’t broken’ mentality that will be fine until it’s not fine. We are very quickly approaching the point at which it’s not fine. We need to innovate now. But so many people are invested in the status quo — after all, it got them to where they are today — that they’re unwilling to examine it and change,” a focus group participant who wished to remain anonymous says.

It Takes a Tapestry
With the wisdom of industry leaders in hand, and with the help of Gap International, Rafter and her team created STRIPES Leadership Program, a 10 month program with 10 rich components. During the program, STRIPES participants will take a deep look at themselves, their companies, their industry and the world around them. They’ll be moved and inspired, they’ll be confronted and challenged, and they’ll ultimately take ground and develop into the leaders and creators of equipment finance’s future.

“Probably the key differentiator of what it is we are trying to create is a sense of self awareness or how leaders can create big change,” Bob Rothman, president of Gap International, says. “What seems to move companies are people that can effect change. And how do people know how to effect change? They know how to effect change in themselves.”

“Best in class leadership is taking personal responsibility to know our own strengths and equally (if not more importantly) our limitations. I think that often, when we are given the opportunity for a promotion or to become a leader, we accept without taking personal stock to determine if we should,” Stephanie Hall, CLFP, EVP of Small-Ticket at BankFinancial, says. “We need to be honest with ourselves about our aptitude for certain roles. If you’re an amazing salesperson and your strength isn’t in managing people, you likely shouldn’t take the role of sales manager. But perhaps your strength is managing processes and waiting for a sales operations lead would be a better fit. Set yourself up for success to lead with your strengths based on who you know yourself to be instead of forcing yourself into a role just to take the ‘next step.’”

STRIPES Leadership Program participants will have the opportunity to do just that while working closely with a wide cross section of leaders throughout the process, including a mentor, STRIPES Leadership, Gap International teams, Master Talk and Master Workshop leaders, and industry peers.

“The power of STRIPES is the richness or ‘tapestry’ of its offerings — there’s nothing like it in equipment finance, or in any industry,” Susan Campbell, executive director of STRIPES Leadership Program, says.

The components of STRIPES include:

Breakthrough Leadership Self-
Assessment (BLSA)

A leadership tool created by Gap International designed for leaders to assess their own level of leadership. Leaders will receive immediate scores and recommendations so they can focus on critical development areas and opportunities.

Breakthrough Intensive Program

A three-day leadership program led by Gap International in which participants will discover “breakthrough” thinking, dispel existing frames of thinking from the past, and remove barriers and limiting beliefs to produce unprecedented results.

Mentor/Mentee Program

A program with guidelines and an agreement which will establish a commitment, bond and accountability between mentors and mentees for development and growth. The mentor and mentee will meet once a month for the duration of the program, and four of those meetings will include the participant’s manager.

Individual Living Leadership Development Plan
A plan developed by the participant with input from their manager and mentor that requires leaders to regularly revisit objectives to ensure accountability and to benchmark against goals. The LDP will enable participants to outline the steps to unleash leadership potential with a suggested threeto five-year time horizon.

Master Talks and Master Workshops

Starting after the three-day breakthrough program, STRIPES participants will take part in eight Master Talks led by recognized industry leaders on topics related to aspects of leadership as well as two Master Workshops from best-in-class leadership experts on topics like creativity and the “being” of a leader.

Breakthrough Reflection Sessions

Rafter will lead four sessions throughout the 10 months to offer a thought provoking continuation of the outcomes from the BLSA and Breakthrough Intensive Program.

Monthly Mentor Meetings

Campbell and Rafter will lead monthly group-wide mentor meetings to provide infrastructure and accountability to support the mentor and mentee relationship.

Independent Cohort Groups

This is an opportunity for participants to work together in smaller groups to support the content and outcomes of the program.

Stripes Induction Ceremony

The ceremony will take place at the end of the program. STRIPES participants, along with managers, mentors and industry leaders, will all come together in person in Philadelphia as the finale to the program. At this point, participants will officially be certified as STRIPES Leaders in recognition of completing all STRIPES requirements.

The intended outcomes of the program are:

  • Greater awareness
  • Mindset and behavioral changes
  • Refined understanding of success and fulfillment
  • Refined understanding of diverse leadership models and styles
  • Development plan and accountability
  • The unleashing of potential opportunities for succession and promotions as well as greater organizational exposure, experience and responsibilities
  • Stronger industry networks
  • Greater depth and breadth of industry talent

“Every leader should want to make the investment in this opportunity for their best and brightest people,” Campbell says. “Thinking of top-of-mind candidates and then challenging that thinking and going deeper to reach a potentially broader and more diverse bench of talent.”

“Development of tomorrow’s leaders is vital to ensuring that our industry continues to thrive in the future,” Rafter says. “We believe STRIPES will become an important component of achieving that goal, and the leaders who invest in their future talent today will ensure the success of their businesses for many years to come.”

For more information about the STRIPES Leadership Program and how to become a STRIPES Leader, contact susie.angelucci@stripesleadership.com or visit stripesleadership.com.

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