Lender’s Side of the Desk: Bill Mayer Brings Deep Experience to WFEF

by Megen Donovan Jan/Feb 2015
As Bill Mayer steps into John McQueen’s shoes as head of Wells Fargo Equipment Finance, he emphasizes the importance of collaborative goal setting, a relationship focus and understanding risk as he explores new ways to continually grow a successful brand.

There are two common themes throughout Bill Mayer’s professional life that have led him to where he is today: solid foundations and continual support. Mayer, who recently took the reins of Wells Fargo Equipment Finance (WFEF) upon John McQueen’s retirement, says that there are many factors that led him through his career to his current position, as well as the smooth transition that took place when McQueen officially vacated his seat.

After graduating from Penn State, Mayer started out as a public accountant at Peat Marwick, which he says was a great launch pad for his career. “When I look back at it, it was a terrific training ground,” he says. “I was put on auditing assignments where I was going to a manufacturer, distributor, a government entity, to a retailer. And the biggest thing I took away from that was it gave me the ability to understand how these companies worked, how they functioned, how they made money.”

After Peat Marwick, Mayer spent about 14 years with GE Capital in various roles in industry verticals such as healthcare and retail. He learned quite a bit about various business scenarios, which provided valuable insights into/for his role on the lender’s side of the desk.

“It gave me the opportunity to really dig under the hood to try to figure out how businesses run,” Mayer explains. “I think it prepared me to become a well-rounded financial executive. I worked in everything from credit, operations, underwriting, audit, sales and business development.”

Armed with nearly 20 years of robust experience, Mayer moved on to Wells Fargo Capital Finance, Wells Fargo’s asset-based lending arm, to run its retail lending platform. Though prior to his arrival the group had struggled a bit, by the time he left in May 2011 to join the wholesale credit team, Mayer says WFCF-Retail had gone from $1 billion to about $10 billion-plus in commitments.

“We were a lot more productive than where we were when we first started,” he says. “I took on responsibilities for five or six other commercial lending businesses within commercial finance, and when I left them in 2011, I had over 500 employees, six or seven different businesses across different industries. When we finished fiscal year 2010, we exceeded our budget by $100 million in pre-tax income.”

Despite his successes, Mayer expressed that some may wonder what he knows about running an equipment finance business. However, he is confident in the foundation he has laid for himself. “The good news is I’ve run a number of different businesses of pretty significant size,” he explains. “The better news is when I moved into wholesale credit, I worked with about six different businesses within Wells’ wholesale group; one of them is WFEF. I got to work with John McQueen, Andrew Rupreecht, Byron Payne, Tom Peterson, and all these great folks. It was during those three and a half years in that credit role that I started to learn the business a little bit better and got up to speed. It was a really smooth transition from John to me because I wasn’t coming in cold from another Wells business or off the street.”

WFEF’s success is evident in the annual Monitor 100 rankings, where the equipment finance company currently ranks in the top 10 with 2013’s reported assets of $27.8 billion, as well as $9.3 billion in 2013 new business volume. Mayer feels WFEF’s continued success is not only a testament to McQueen’s leadership, but also the support the unit receives from the parent bank, which boasted $1.7 trillion in assets as of year-end 2014, making it the fourth largest U.S. bank.

Mayer says that operating under Wells Fargo’s umbrella is greatly advantageous and he looks forward to his expanded role as a business head. “I can tell you from the perspective of someone who came out of a finance company, when I came to Wells, it was clear,” he says. “Wells has a terrific platform, and that’s because people work really hard trying to help their customers. You can look it up; we’re a leader in a number of different lending segments. The reason is because we’re focused on helping our customers. In my old job … the thing that was amazing to me was how well those businesses work together, how well those businesses are focused on solving customer issues, providing the right products and services, so the amount of cross sell is just terrific.”

Cross pollinating is prevalent among Wells Fargo business units; however, Mayer says that there is more they can do. “They’re already doing a really great job with a number of the C&I, commercial banking, U.S. corporate [businesses],” he explains. “Those relationships are up. They’re coordinated. They’re in sync. We’re constantly looking to make things better.

“There are a couple lines of business that we are not quite as far along with, like WFCF, Government and Institutional Banking,” he continues. “There are a lot of opportunities for WFEF. We just have to take what we’ve done with those other lines of business and replicate … and we’ll continually make even more progress with the other C&I businesses within Wells Fargo Wholesale.”

Setting these and other short- and long-term goals has been a team effort among WFEF senior staff. Mayer says that in his short time as unit head he has spent a great deal of time with senior management to get a feel for their goals and to hear new ideas.

“I want to hear ideas,” Mayer stresses. “I view that as being very collaborative. When I first came to Wells Fargo and was working with the retail group, I spent 90 to 100 days with my senior team putting together a strategic plan, and that’s what I’m doing right now with the WFEF senior team.”

Some of the goals they have discussed have centered on researching new industry verticals, such as technology leasing. “We don’t do a lot of that today,” Mayer explains. “There is an opportunity out there. We’re going to look to do that.” However, he notes that WFEF isn’t going to just jump into something. “We’re going to do our homework. We’re going to make sure we understand it. It’s one of the pillars within Wells Fargo: the relationship focus, but also understanding the risk. We’ve got to understand the risk before we dive into the deep end. It’s really taking the existing model and just continuing to improve it.”

Mayer’s confidence in improving and growing the well-established product and brand stems not only from his professional experience, but also the personal support he has received over the years.

In his college years, Mayer represented the Nittany Lions on the ice hockey and lacrosse teams, both of which occupied most of his 18-year-old self’s mind and interests. However, when he met his wife Cynthia, she “really helped crystalize things in my mind,” he says. “My wife changed everything. She’s just been incredibly supportive our entire marriage and my entire professional career. I look back at my years at GE … I was moving about every two years. And every two years an opportunity would come up, and they would say, ‘Oh, we’d like you to go do this.’ And it got to the point where I’d come home and she’d look at me and go, ‘Ok, just give me the relocation person’s name and number.’ And on we went.”

He says the support he has at home, which is bolstered by his daughters Brittany and Katherine, is an extremely important aspect to his success, but there is one other factor that has played a major role in his career, and it’s something he stresses to business students when he visits his alma mater to discuss the leadership path.

“One of the things I always tell those bright smiling faces is whether or not there are any formal mentoring programs where you go, it’s important to find a mentor,” he says. “When I went to work for Peat Marwick, there was a guy named Paul Breunich. Paul ended up being one of my closest friends, but when I started my career he really helped me. So I always try to pinpoint people. Especially with young folks, when you get into an organization, a big corporate organization, you need to find a mentor.”

McQueen was an easy mentor target, as the pair worked closely prior to Mayer’s official takeover of the equipment finance unit, which was instrumental in the transition going as well as it has so far — and Mayer can’t wait to get the ball rolling.

“I am extremely excited about taking on this role,” Mayer says. “John McQueen did such a great job with WFEF. I’m going to have really big shoes to fill. He left me a great team, with a lot of energetic, enthusiastic people. I’d just like to thank John for all his hard work and efforts. I’m looking forward to working and continuing to drive and grow WFEF.”

Megen Donovan is an associate editor of Monitor.

Leave a comment