People are the Power

by Rita E. Garwood October 2020
Rich Doherty has lived through many economic cycles and he helped build one of the premier bank-owned equipment finance companies. He says the key to a company’s success is its culture. He looks back at the highlights of his career and provides advice for riding the economic tides.

Rich Doherty,
HighStreet Capital Advisors

Over the course of Rich Doherty’s 43 years in the equipment finance industry, he has held a variety of roles at companies we all know well — CIT, Banc of America and PNC, to name a few.

“Rich brings a real breadth of knowledge to the table. His skill set is vast and includes firsthand experience in sales, capital markets, asset management and the executive level,” Tom Vasilakos, senior director of TCF Capital Solutions, says. “As a leader, he doesn’t just deal in theory or have to extrapolate — he’s actually done it all and brings a rare, seasoned pragmatism to the marketplace.”

Looking back over his career, Doherty says one position stands out as his biggest learning experience. “When CIT struggled with their project finance portfolio, they asked me to run it for five years,” Doherty says. “Managing project finance generally involves startup businesses and requires a holistic approach. You really need to understand not only sales and credit but legal, tax and insurance. You need to understand the environmental implications of the city, states and counties where you’re going to do business.”

However, the highlights of Doherty’s career have been mergers and acquisitions. He was working for Bank Boston when it was acquired by Fleet. Then Bank of America acquired Fleet before merging with Merrill Lynch.

Building the PNC Powerhouse

His favorite position of them all — PNC— also involved M&A. Doherty began his career at PNC in 1976 in the bank’s training program and returned in 2009 to take on a unique position. “PNC had an opportunity to establish itself as an industry leader, and that experience was really rewarding,” Doherty says.

“Rich Doherty was recruited to PNC Financial Services Group in the midst of the Great Recession in 2009 after PNC’s merger with National City,” Douglas Shaffer, executive vice president and head of PNC Debt Capital Markets, says. “Rich’s background and experience made him the perfect candidate to help lead the integration of the two banks’ (PNC and National City) leasing companies, especially with his prior experience of incorporating leasing companies into bank platforms.

“Rich’s responsibilities in this role included growing National City’s platform, merging in the PNC business and integrating the combined leasing company into the PNC Corporate & Institutional Banking group strategy and culture,” Shaffer says. “Due to his long career in leasing and banking, his deep expertise in equipment finance, and his alignment to relationship-focused values and camaraderie, Rich was able to effectively earn the trust of the PNC Equipment Finance team headquartered in Cincinnati, including the leader at the time who built the business from the ground up.”

“I can remember when I was first hired and I went to Cincinnati because they brought me in through Nat City,” Doherty says. “People came up to me, whispering, ‘Are you from PNC? Are you here to review us?’ And I said, ‘No, I’m just a new employee, and I’m looking for the men’s room.’ Nat City was really like a family. So having the ability to become a trusted partner with those folks who had worked together collaboratively for so many years and then help them build and grow was really important.”

“After successfully supporting the establishment of the go-forward business, Rich was promoted to president of PNC Equipment Finance at the beginning of 2011,” Shaffer says. “At the time, PNC’s business ranked sixth among bank-owned equipment finance companies. In less than a decade, Rich led 58% growth of the business, and when he retired in 2018, PNC Equipment Finance was the third largest bank-owned equipment finance company.”

Riding the Economic Tides

“Rich’s success was due to his relevant and diverse experience in the industry across multiple economic cycles combined with his deep expertise in credit risk management and asset valuation,” Shaffer says. “He brought significant value by being able to recognize both future credit risk issues and potential volatility in specific equipment values that PNC owned or was looking to lease. Rich was also a deep expert in the impact of the tax components that leasing brought to the business and to PNC’s overall financial statements. All of this, combined with his ability to lead and inspire the PNC Equipment Finance team, developed a unique culture that enabled our business to succeed.”

Having lived through several economic cycles, Doherty says it’s important to constantly evaluate your portfolio to gauge your comfort level with the concentration levels of various assets.

“Downturns are going to happen,” Doherty says. “When you start to identify concentrations in your portfolio, take pieces of it to the market to establish liquidity. That’s always the best jury for whether you’re doing the type of business other institutions would do and whether it’s liquid. What you don’t want are buckets of transactions that are not marketable because if something happens, then you’re stuck. Additionally, you never want to be in a position where you have one buyer and one seller. That limits your negotiation leverage.”

Your Strategy is as Strong as Your People

Doherty’s advice to other leaders is simple: “It all begins and ends with your people. It’s not how low your cost of funds are or how big or small you are. If you have the right people, and then you develop a vision that you really believe in which you can execute, that’s a solid foundation.

“At the same time, you need to have a diverse employee base,” Doherty says. “We need a lot of young people. We need a lot of diverse people in the business to bring new ideas because the world’s different now. My advice to new leaders is set a strategy that you’re comfortable with, always continue to evaluate it because things are going to change, and focus on the right people. Even if you have to pay a little bit more money, you’ll get dividends in spades because if you have the right person, they’re really going to help you build what you want. Give them an opportunity to grow and they’ll attract talented people.”

Shaffer says Doherty lived by this advice at PNC. “Rich dedicated his career to building and deepening authentic relationships in the industry, which enabled him to meet the needs of his contacts while acquiring clients that grew PNC Equipment Finance’s portfolio,” Shaffer says. “His broad professional network led to the recruitment of talented individuals to the team that further supported the success and sustainability of the business. Rich never lost focus on his team members and dedicated tremendous care and consideration to their ongoing career development and growth. It was his ability to make others successful that led to the nearly doubling of the portfolio in less than a decade under his leadership.”

“If you don’t have the right people and you don’t have the right culture, culture will eat strategy for lunch,” Doherty says. “It’s like a sports team. Some years, you’re going to have injuries and you’re not going to be able to make it [to] the Super Bowl. Other years, you’re going to get lucky breaks, so you’re going to get there, but that foundation of having a solid strategy, focused execution, and constantly hiring and training the right people is a winning formula.”

These days, Doherty leads HighStreet Capital Advisors, a firm that helps organizations improve and reach the next level. The firm has helped both small companies trying to get to the next level and larger companies that need a second set of eyes on their strategy. “If our clients succeed, we succeed,” Doherty says. “That’s how we build our business.” •

Rita E. Garwood is editor in chief of Monitor.

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