Shifting Lanes: Partridge Keeps Clients at the Center in New Role

by Phil Neuffer September/October 2015

After nearly two decades with Fifth Third, Tom Partridge is taking on an entirely different role as leader of the bank’s Equipment Finance division. Despite the change of scenery, he has set some lofty goals, saying he wants to make his new unit the best retail bank leasing company in the U.S.

Loyalty is not something that Tom Partridge lacks. He has been with Fifth Third Bank for 18 years and never wavered in his commitment to the organization. That is not to say his role within the bank has not changed, however.

A Cincinnati native, Partridge returned to his hometown from Philadelphia 18 years ago and has garnered a laundry list of positions with Fifth Third ever since. He ran Fifth Third’s middle market team in the Cincinnati market, and then moved to Cleveland to serve as a senior commercial banker and leader of wholesale calling efforts in northeast Ohio for two years. He then rose to the presidency of the Cleveland market for a year before moving to Kentucky to run that market for the bank. His position in Kentucky, which included overseeing the Lexington and Louisville markets, is one he has held for the last five years.

As has been the case during his nearly two decades with the bank, Partridge was not stuck into place in Kentucky, as he was appointed to lead Fifth Third’s Equipment Finance Services in early July. It’s just another challenge for Partridge, and one he welcomes.

“I’ve always been in a situation where I feel the bank has continued to give me additional career responsibilities and opportunities to grow and develop,” says Partridge. “That’s one of the reasons I’m at the bank.”

Shifting Lanes

With little direct equipment finance experience in his background, Partridge may not appear to be the most obvious choice to head Fifth Third’s division, which ranked 18th in the 2015 Monitor 100 with close to $6.7 billion in net assets.

However, Partridge is used to taking on new and unexpected responsibilities. When he moved to Kentucky, he was initially responsible for only the Louisville market, but an unfortunate death in the company forced him to combine the Louisville and Lexington markets under his watch. Though there may not be animosity between the markets like there is between the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville’s fan bases, the task of melding the two markets was still challenging.

“Under the scenario, we had two markets that frankly had different cultures,” says Partridge. “I basically had to take two leadership teams, combine them into one and then really build a consistent culture across the entire region.”

Partridge clearly did a commendable job joining the two teams, as Fifth Third has chosen to put the keys to its largely successful equipment finance division in his hands. Partridge is quick to admit that equipment finance may not be his primary background, but he feels the unique atmosphere across the Fifth Third brand will make for a seamless transition.

“A lot of times in an organization or a bank of our size, I think it becomes very siloed, and our organization is very much counter to that,” says Partridge. “We work really hard to make sure all of our lines of business work really well together so we can holistically solve and help the client and meet their needs.”

Avoiding a siloed approach to the organization makes for an easier transition among departments and allows Partridge the chance to face a challenge he is excited to tackle.

“It gives me an opportunity to run a national line of business for the bank. It’s a line of business that not only touches our in-footprint customers but also allows me to run something that the bank covers at a national level. That was very exciting to me,” says Partridge. “I’ve always had a passion for the wholesale or commercial side of the bank, and that’s where I kind of grew up in terms of my career. This gives me the opportunity to really get to know another area of the bank a little bit better and put ourselves in a position to continue to solve issues for our clients and help them meet their capital needs.”

Helping clients and making decisions that are focused on those clients’ needs are passions that Partridge feels permeates the entirety of the Fifth Third organization. Although he will be learning as he grows in his new post, maintaining that mantra is something he is already familiar with.
“I’ve always liked the bank’s approach to the client,” says Partridge. “I think sometimes, in other organizations, they fail to put the client in the center, and what I like about us is we put the client in the center of all the decisions we make. That’s been another key aspect of why I like the organization.”

Tackling Equipment Finance

From the onset, Partridge has understood the makeup of Fifth Third’s Equipment Finance unit, which he breaks up into three sections: an indirect division, an in-footprint opportunity and an out-of-footprint calling effort.

Utilizing all three sections, Partridge says that Fifth Third has taken a rather broad approach to the equipment finance market, touching on several areas, including marine, trucking and rail, while branching out to other specialized areas as well. With healthcare, retail, food and beverage, restaurant and agriculture verticals in the overall organization itself, the leasing company has plenty of opportunities to expand and to use its tools and skills to provide financing for a variety of businesses.

“It’s leveraging our expertise in those areas to help solve capital equipment needs,” says Partridge. “It’s pretty all-encompassing in making sure we continue to focus on those areas where the bank has great expertise and building our expertise to continue to support our industry verticals.”

Leveraging expertise is not just something Partridge wants to do in expanding the scope of the equipment finance unit. It also plays into his goals for the near future, particularly as it pertains to ensuring he gets the most from the team around him.

“With any new role, the first thing you need to do is make sure you understand the team and the team’s strengths and weaknesses. The good thing for me is I’m inheriting a team that has a lot of strengths, but for any leader you have to understand the personalities,” says Partridge. “So the first 90 days for me is making sure I understand the team, their strengths, and then once you understand, it becomes, how do we leverage their strengths so we can go to market most effectively and really help clients solve their particular needs?”

With a team he feels has exceptional potential and the opportunity to grow, Partridge turns to taking on the challenges facing Fifth Third Equipment Finance and the equipment finance industry in general. Most notably, and most obviously, he points to the health of the economy as the top concern.
“Our business can be impacted by cyclical changes to the business environment. For instance, if we have a dip in the economy, that could be impactful to our business,” says Partridge, who adds that market compression and tightening margin pressures are issues the entire industry is feeling. “But, like anything else, you have to learn to grow and adapt with industry changes that come about.”

Partridge’s strategies for adaptation to any hurdle in his new role involve not only making sure his team is comprised of the best people in the industry, but is primed to be more aggressive on the sales side while concentrating on follow-up and execution.

Aiming for the Top

It is difficult to tell what is next for Partridge. His track record at Fifth Third has featured more than a few changes of scenery (and industry), but for now, he is focused on some lofty goals.

“As I look out today, in five years, if we’re the top regional equipment leasing company, I’ll be pretty happy,” says Partridge. “You can talk about what defines success, whether it’s origination, whether you’re being an employer of choice or whether you’re continuing to bring the best ideas to the table, but ideally I want to make sure that when you look at Fifth Third and where we are today, you see the best retail bank leasing company in the U.S.”

Though he has set some high standards for himself and his unit, Partridge is nonetheless focused on continually excelling on a day-to-day basis, saying his main responsibility is to help clients solve their capital equipment needs each and every day. After all, it is those efforts that will help build to the great heights he hopes to reach.

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