Rapid, Sustainable Direct Channel Momentum

by Sept/Oct 2020
Eric Freeman launched Liberty Commercial Finance in April 2017, and in less than three years the independent finance company was on the receiving end of a minority investment from Copley Equity Partners. Charting the No. 1 new business volume of the 101+ group in 2019, Liberty has established a solid trajectory for growth in the years to come.

Eric Freeman,
President and Chief Investment Officer,
Liberty Commercial Finance

Eric Freeman began his equipment finance career in 2003 at a small independent in Southern California. Given a cubicle and a list of old leads to cold call, his manager instructed him to find some business.

“I picked [up] the phone, started cold calling and found some early success in the business, and just figured it out,” Freeman says.

With a finance degree, an entrepreneurial spirit and knowledge of credit and sales, Freeman found deals as well as banks willing to get them done. Soon he moved up to sales management. In 2012, he joined Summit Funding to launch a new middle market group focused on non-investment grade credits. After achieving half a billion in volume after four years, Freeman decided to go out on his own.

Given his sales experience, Freeman opted for a direct origination strategy when he bootstrapped Liberty Commercial Finance in April 2017. With a focus on mid-to large-ticket deals ranging from $1 million to $5 million (with a few larger outlier deals), Liberty serves the B to B- credit box — the zone where banks start to get uncomfortable. Liberty’s specialty is providing structures tailored to the needs of the private equity-owned companies it serves in an intentionally diversified range of industries.

Liberty’s go-to-market strategy was a recipe for success. In 2019, Liberty achieved $300.6 million in new business volume — the highest recorded by the Monitor 101 companies.

Freeman and his business soon got the attention of Copley Equity Partners, a private investment firm focused on providing capital and resources to middle market companies. Liberty received a minority investment from Copley in early August and, in conjunction with the investment, is in the process of finalizing a new senior credit facility.

Copley had already invested in Burlington-VT-based North Star Leasing, which specializes in smaller-ticket middle market transactions, so Liberty was the perfect complement.

Greg Sonzogni, vice president at Copley, says that Liberty’s rapid and sustainable growth coupled with Freeman and the Liberty management team made the investment attractive to his firm.

“Generally, Copley’s investing alongside the owners, the founders, the management team,” Sonzogni says. “We are doing so in a way where it’s a relationship — it’s a partnership.”

Freeman says the Copley investment will be “a real game changer” for Liberty and its client base when it comes to access to capital and speed of turnaround. And while Freeman has plans to build out a vendor channel in 2021 and expand indirect business, some things at Liberty will remain the same.

“Eric and the team have built something that works,” Sonzogni says, adding Copley’s goal with this investment was to continue to build the momentum of the model that Freeman and team created.

“This isn’t a business that needed a direction change. It was more in need of fuel for the fire,” Freeman says. “We’re going to keep on doing what we’ve done well and bolster up our direct lending side of the business — just keep marching forward and executing our plan.”

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