One Big Family: BancorpSouth EF Looking to Grow Under Gilliam

by Sam Nickerson March 2017
Kyle Gilliam joined BancorpSouth as president of Equipment Finance and Leasing in the fall of 2016. Gilliam discusses with Monitor his transition to the Tupelo, MS-based bank, his views on teambuilding and expanding to include a vendor/dealer program.

With its focus on the South and parts of the Midwest, BancorpSouth has become a fixture on the Monitor 100, landing at No. 67 for total asset size and No. 77 by volume in 2016. Now, with new President of Equipment Finance and Leasing Kyle Gilliam having joined during the fall of 2016, look for BancorpSouth to expand on its service to commercial and municipal entities with a three-point go-to-market strategy and a dedication to building the best team – a “work family,” in Gilliam’s words – to support these clients.

The Road (Further) South

Gilliam began his career as a commercial lender in 1994 in Fort Smith, AR, but transitioned to equipment financing in 1999 – a move he says was likely inspired by his time working in civil engineering during his 27 years of service in the Arkansas Air National Guard.

“There, I was exposed to many different types of equipment and over the years became certified to operate and maintain that equipment. So, when a position became available with Regions Equipment Leasing in Little Rock, Arkansas I applied and was offered the job,” Gilliam says.

After serving as a vice president at Regions, Gilliam became an executive vice president at Bank of the Ozarks until 2007, when he co-founded and served as president and CEO of Arvest Bank’s Equipment Finance business, which first appeared in the Monitor Bank 50 in 2013. At Arvest, Gilliam oversaw a team that serviced clients in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri.

If there’s a clear thread throughout Gilliam’s 20-something year finance career, it’s that he has remained dedicated to serving businesses and municipalities in the regions he has called home: the South and southern Midwest.

When the opportunity to join BancorpSouth – a company whose success Gilliam said he has admired over the years – arose, it marked the biggest relocation of his career, but still within a geographic footprint he has come to know well. Gilliam jumped at the chance to pack up and head even further south, to the bank’s equipment finance offices in Hattiesburg, MS.

“Anytime you have to relocate, it’s a big deal. However, I was ready for that challenge and with the support of my wife and my children, it’s gone really well,” Gilliam says. “What I wasn’t prepared for was how hard it would be to leave my work family. I was really close with them.”

It’s Who You’re With

Being the head of the equipment finance division, Gilliam understands that the success of his team depends on him making the right decisions at the right time. His leadership style hinges on building a strong “work family” that is committed to the business model and “willing to do whatever it takes” to achieve the top-down mission – which he points out is no small task.

“The one big thing that jumps out to me is that you must surround yourself with team members that will support your vision. If your team isn’t supportive of the model, how can you expect others to buy in?” Gilliam says. “This may sound simple, but it’s really not. It may take a few years of trial and error to assess the exact skill set of certain individuals, including senior level employees. The trust factor cannot waiver among the team. You must maintain a circle of trust. If you haven’t done everything within your abilities to properly prepare your team to be successful, you haven’t done your job.”

Fortunately for Gilliam, this team approach to equipment finance is endemic to BancorpSouth, and the philosophy begins at the very top of the organization. Gilliam says that CEO Dan Rollins, President Chris Bagley and Chief Sales Officer Brian Walhood are engaged with employees at all levels of the organization, and have set an example for other executives in the company.

Gilliam says he will miss the handpicked team he had in Arkansas – he “knew their strengths and weaknesses” – but is fortunate to have “some of the most talented and seasoned professionals” in the industry on his new team, who he says are eager to embrace change.

“I’m that change agent,” Gilliam says, noting that he is planning to fill out his new work family with new hires, with the goal of replicating in Hattiesburg the type of team he had in Arkansas, but on a larger scale. “We are in the process of diversifying our calling efforts, hiring new officers and ramping up continuing education.”

Eyes on the Prize

Gilliam says that BancorpSouth will continue to focus on the bank’s existing geographic footprint, but that doesn’t mean the equipment finance side won’t be expanding. After all, BancorpSouth landed at No. 41 on last year’s Monitor Bank 50 when ranked by net assets and No. 47 by new business volume, giving Gilliam a strong foundation on which to build.

BancorpSouth will remain dedicated to the industries that accounted for its top three volume concentrations by equipment – truck/trailer, construction and state and local governments – but Gilliam says he wants to see the company continue to diversify.

According to Gilliam, BancorpSouth will “reinvent” itself somewhat in the near future to include small business, manufacturing, medical and aviation clients, among others.

“Our intent is to cast a wide net. We are interested in looking at transactions that range from $10,000 to $10 million with revenue ranges anywhere from $250,000 to $100 million,” Gilliam says. “We are confident that we can serve the equipment finance needs of any size businesses while providing competitive interest rates and excellent customer service.”

BancorpSouth also sets itself apart with its dedication to the municipal sector, which accounted for most of its top asset classes last year. Under this umbrella, BancorpSouth provides flexible financing options to local towns and governments in need of police vehicles, construction equipment and 911 systems, but are often held to tight public budgets and limited upfront cash.

BancorpSouth emphasizes to potential municipal customers that equipment can be financed at attractive rates because it can make investments in the equipment that are tax free – such as a municipal lease-purchase that is not legally a debt but is treated as a capital lease.

Gilliam reinforced BancorpSouth’s dedication to becoming a leader in this highly-controlled sector by noting that the company recently added another FTE to increase calling efforts for and focus on municipal lease purchases.

“The municipal sector is competitive and complex. It takes highly specialized team members that have the knowledge and experience to work in this space,” Gilliam says.

Gilliam says that a goal during his tenure will be for BancorpSouth to expand via a three point go-to-market strategy that would include a bank program, a vendor/dealer program and a direct origination channel.

In 2017, Gilliam wants to see BancorpSouth explore opportunities to update technology, something he says should be done often, especially now that the internet has widened the number and search area of buyers seeking equipment.

“When I first started, I would guess that 95% of all equipment was purchased locally if possible. Now, with the internet, all types of equipment can be purchased from just about anywhere and it’s based on the most competitive price,” Gilliam says. “It has changed how our industry is conducted, all the way from online credit submissions to customers in the United States buying equipment from overseas – sight unseen.”

Gilliam also says that the future of the equipment finance industry looks bright, and considering early indications from the Trump White House that it is looking to ease regulations to support business growth, he may be right. Gilliam’s optimism, though, is couched by an understanding that this means the industry will have to explore growth options in a way that is sustainable and in accordance with whatever the current legal framework is.

“I am optimistic that our economy will start to expand and grow. However, at the same time, my hope is that our industry remains disciplined in our credit underwriting practices as we work to grow our portfolios” Gilliam says. “We all have pressures to try and grow our companies, but we must remember that we need to grow in a way that is methodical and measured, while staying true to our company’s core values.”

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