Operating With Integrity: CIT Leverages Industry Expertise to Achieve Customer Trust

by Rita Garwood Monitor 100 2016

Eric Miller has been building CIT Capital Equipment Finance’s direct originations platform, assembling a team of customer-focused industry experts that provide custom-tailored solutions. Leveraging its risk culture and industry-domain knowledge, CIT is serving markets that others may find challenging while maintaining its status as a best-in-class organization and a trusted advisor to its customers.

Eric Miller became managing director and group head of CIT Capital Equipment Finance in March of 2015. Like many in the industry, equipment finance was not his first career choice. Initially, he wanted to be a veterinarian. Later, his focus shifted to law enforcement.

After graduating from college, Miller worked in collections for a bank while he focused on taking entrance exams for local and federal law enforcement agencies. Though the collections industry was not his intended career path, this position laid the foundation of Miller’s work ethic. “That job taught me how to work hard,” Miller says. “If you work harder than everyone around you, you end up with the best results. It ended up being a big positive in my life.”

Miller quickly climbed to a collections leadership position, which opened doors to credit and underwriting. Through hard work, he won a leadership role in credit, contract administration and operations.

In 2001, a recruiter tried to convince Miller to consider a sales role with Wells Fargo Equipment Finance. Initially, Miller had zero interest, given the negative impression of sales people that he developed during his time in collections, and he declined the role four or five times. Thanks to the recruiter’s persistence, Miller took the risk and began learning what was necessary to succeed in a sales professional role with Wells Fargo. “That was probably the single best career move that I’ve made,” he says.

After a few years, GE Capital offered Miller a sales role. About a year and a half later, he was offered a sales manager position in the Northeast, which was a difficult move to make after his success as an individual contributor. “I led different teams over the course of my 10 years in sales leadership at GE Capital,” Miller says. “It seems like every time I turned a team around or took a team to a new level, my manager would change my role. The guy that put me through all this pain, Tim Hyland, ended up being a true mentor to me.”

Hyland taught Miller a great deal and remains a trusted confidant to this day. “Learning the intricacies of the business is something that you learn over time and by working your butt off, but learning the behavioral traits that are necessary to be a best-in-class leader is something different,” Miller says. “Tim taught me how to recognize my development needs. He taught me how to become more self-aware. Most importantly, he taught me how to soften the edges.”

This education was a true benefit to Miller when he took his current role with CIT, which he says is a culmination of working in specific disciplines and pulling them all together. “I’ve worked really hard to get to this point,” Miller says. “More importantly, I want the people who invested time and effort in me to be proud of the contributions that they’ve made. I have a lot of people to make proud.”

A Customer-Centric Approach

Miller plans to continue his record of accomplishment by putting the customer first at CIT. “Creating and expanding a culture of uncovering opportunities in a market that allows us, as a business, to provide custom-tailored solutions for individual needs is what drives me,” Miller says. “It’s real easy to go out and provide a low price, but it’s so much more rewarding to help customers think differently about the best ways to capitalize their business.

“I think a lot of organizations are too internally focused,” he continues. “They create processes which cause pain to their customer. I want this organization to be one that thinks about the customer and works around the process to make the customer experience a positive one.”

As CIT builds out a national direct-originations platform targeting the middle market, this customer-centric approach will be essential. “We’ve put together an all-star team,” Miller says, adding that the team members have specific industry knowledge that fits their geographic coverage areas. “The sales director who covers the northern half of California and the Pacific Northwest has a strong background working with technology companies. In Detroit, our sales director not only has experience working with transportation and construction companies but in general manufacturers, putting to use a specific expertise in financing automotive manufacturing companies.”

All told, CIT has already established eight geographic sales divisions across the U.S.: Southwest, Northwest, Midwest, Northeast, Pacific, Mid-Atlantic, Great Lakes and Southeast. Miller says a Southern Plains division is in the works. “We’re definitely growing,” Miller says. “We’re obviously taking advantage of the opportunity in the market right now.”

Miller has two short-term goals: completing the direct channel platform build out and aligning the equipment finance unit with CIT’s commercial banking team. “We want to be a relationship-driven organization. We want to earn trusted advisor status with our customers,” Miller says.

“We’re working on being an extension of the industry vertical teams within our commercial finance franchise. We want to partner with our small-ticket leasing platform, and we want to bring all of the products of CIT to our customers. We want to add value to our customers in whatever way we can.”

Miller’s long-term goals are customer-focused as well. “We want to be viewed as an organization that our customers rely on — one where they come back whenever there is a need. We want our customers to feel that we understand their businesses and we will be there through the natural business cycle. To the industry, we want to be respected and viewed as a best-in-class organization that operates with the highest level of integrity.”

What sets CIT apart from the crowd, according to Miller, is its risk culture. This culture gives CIT the ability to perform deeper underwriting and devote the time necessary to understand a company’s business in markets that others may find challenging. “We understand structure, and we carry significant industry domain knowledge. I think our bank competition, to a large degree, is very focused on a credit rating — a specific credit box. We do a tremendous job in underwriting deeper, gaining an understanding of how assets are going to be utilized and their importance to the business.”

Industry Outlook

When Miller looks at the equipment finance industry as a whole, he has two primary concerns: pressures caused by commodity prices and the tendency to loosen standards in the face of competition. “Large banks continue to price to win irrespective of relative value and risk,” he says. “What I would consider to be risky credit decisions that were made prior to the crisis are being made today — maybe even worse.”

Despite these concerns, Miller says the industry is in a period of slow growth. “I think the equipment finance industry will continue to chug along slowly like it has since the Great Recession. There’s been this pent-up demand that just hasn’t reached fruition yet. It will at some point in time, but I think everybody, since 2009, has been so guarded that people have been concerned with replacing their equipment to a large degree, particularly in the manufacturing space.”

Despite this tortoise pace, Miller does see opportunity ahead. “What’s interesting is there’s been a transition in the large ticket market. GE Capital’s large ticket equipment financing business no longer exists,” he says. “In addition, a couple of other banks have exited.”

Miller notes that a few new entrants have emerged to take advantage of the void left by GE Capital. “The opportunity for us is simply by growing market share through our direct originations channel. We’re very well positioned to capture market that’s been left on the table.”

Overall, Miller is excited about the path that lies ahead. “CIT is a terrific organization. It’s been incredibly supportive from an investment perspective. The organization recognizes that making a transition from an indirect model to a more direct approach has significant benefit. For as long as I’ve been in the equipment finance space, CIT has been synonymous with large-ticket equipment finance. Now that I’m a member of the team, I understand why.”

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