Taking the Road Less Traveled: How One Woman Created Her Own Equipment Finance Success
by Terri McNally September/October 2017
Entrepreneur Terri McNally shares the insight she gained from launching and successfully running an independent equipment finance company. She offers six vital lessons for those in the industry who are hoping to create a successful business.
Forty years ago, if someone asked me if I would start a business, I would have laughed. Back then, I was perfectly content with bright prospects. I had a great job at Security Pacific Bank, upcoming marriage plans and big hopes for a family. Being an entrepreneur was not on my radar, and the idea of starting a company in a male-dominated industry never crossed my mind. Yet years later, here I am — a successful entrepreneur — in an industry still dominated by men, and it’s been a great ride.
Learning How to Make a Deal
I started with Security Pacific Bank as a bank teller interacting with people and working to understand their expectations. Eventually, as an automotive loan credit analyst and a loan representative, I learned the ins and outs of credit deals, from structuring loans to assessing applicants and their needs. Then GE Capital recruited me to work in its Commercial Equipment Finance Division.
The move from consumer lending to commercial lending and leasing introduced me to a greater level of complexity and launched the career I enjoy today. In two years, I gained experience with sales support, business development and management. I survived significant industry shake-ups and consolidations by staying flexible. Financial services flew high during the 80s and 90s, and I flew right along. I loved my clients and happily toed the corporate line working for two more big banks — Fleet Capital and Ameritech Capital — in that time.
At home and school, my four children thrived. All was well — until it wasn’t.
My floor dropped out in 1999. Downsizing, which had catapulted friends and family into the unknown, came calling for me this time.
Without a job and no longer married, the pressure was intense. I had one child in college and shared parenting responsibilities for my other three sons. I had to move quickly.
Longtime clients and mentors that I had nurtured over the years stepped up as my cheerleaders. They reminded me of my talents and offered their loyalty. With their support, I founded and launched Global Capital. Today we serve more than 65 organizations around the world.
Launching a business is never easy, but I’m willing to share several of the lessons I’ve learned for those in our industry who are hoping to create a successful business.
1. Nurture your dream, but don’t be afraid to shift gears.
You never know how a dream will be fulfilled. Early in my career, my dream was to serve clients so well they trusted me implicitly, which would please my employer. Simultaneously, I dreamed of raising and loving a family that would love me in return. While both dreams ultimately came true, the path was anything but straight, and the final employer ended up being me.
2. Mentors matter.
Entrepreneurship can be lonely, especially at the end of the day when decisions and responsibilities are yours alone. A wise woman keeps mentors close and allows them to help navigate the unknowns of running a successful business.
Former bosses, colleagues and even some competitors came to my aid over the years and acted as valued sounding boards. One of my most important mentors was also a source of business funding. I cannot say it enough, especially for women in male-dominated industries, mentors provide an advantage that one person cannot attain alone.
Keeping those relationships strong is one of the most important tasks of a business executive, especially an entrepreneur. I often tell young people to determine the amount of time they want to put into mentoring then double it. The investment cannot be underestimated.
3. Work/life balance is not equal parts work and life — it’s the flow between the two.
I always encourage employees to attend their kids’ events, shows and field trips. Time passes so quickly, and we cannot reclaim those moments. Mutual give and take between the company and employee builds loyalty and, ultimately, client confidence in the firm. Let’s face it, clients know when their main contacts are happy at work, and the investment in flexibility comes back to the firm exponentially.
During the past 18 years, the flexibility of the industry allowed me the freedom to plan business appointments and work hours around my children’s events and other family commitments.
Today, two sons work with me. The fact that my grown children are executives at the company assures me that my work and life are in balance. A third son, who retired from the U.S. Army and started his own equipment leasing company, SLM Enterprises, is also in the business. We plan appointments together so our customers have another diverse supplier option because SLM is a service-disabled, veteran-owned company.
4. Ask others what they wish they had known at the beginning of their careers.
Eighteen years ago when I started my company, I knew a lot about the industry, but not a lot about running a business. Here are 10 tips I wished I’d known then:
Get certified with organizations that help drive business such as Women’s Business Enterprise Network Council (WBENC).
Hire an intern to register the firm in corporate supplier diversity websites so corporations know your company and can reach you.
Prepare a one-page capability statement about the firm.
Show up in person at diversity events to network.
Partner with others, such as women-owned business enter-prises, minority business enterprises and other diverse and non-diverse firms.
Provide the second tier spend if you are a diverse company. By partnering with non-diverse companies, you help them win important contracts and keep your pipeline strong.
Make the work culture personal by being interested in what happens before and after work. On our Monday morning calls, we share positive personal moments and business ones. We’ve named it our Peaks Call.
Use the entrepreneur time system. Schedule three types of days — focus days for revenue producing, buffer days for planning focus days and free days to create with no cell phone, no email and no interruptions. The ratio is dependent on what is happening in each business, but a mix of all three is critical.
Nurture a relationship with your funding sources and keep them in the know regarding your plans and progress.
5. Get the basics right to avoid squandering good will.
Whether you are a business leader, mother or good friend, sometimes a reminder from someone with your best interest at heart is helpful. When running fast, these common sense tips can be overlooked:
Practice email excellence. Keep emails short and specific. Always include a subject.
Be yourself completely. Your authentic self is what you are selling.
Know when your clients’ contracts/leases expire.
Articulate your business proposition and value clearly. Imagine explaining it to your grandmother.
Follow up in a timely manner; it’s good manners.
Keep good notes. Trust me, you’ll need them.
Keep the website updated.
Google yourself and the company periodically and resolve issues you find.
Listen well to customers, employees and strategic partners. Verify your understanding.
Meet face to face as often as possible and leave something behind.
Share your vision with everyone.
Know your customers’ sales cycles. I keep two lists: My Top 50 is for revenue within 120 days, and the farm club includes those with a longer cycle.
Eliminate surprises (unless they are flowers). Executives don’t like them, nor do lenders.
Be accountable. When you make a mistake, own it. A considerate, appro-priate and timely apology can be an avenue for a better relationship.
Don’t be tied to an outcome. Do your best, and let it go. Express thanks for the opportunity to compete.
Launching and managing a successful enterprise is a uniquely personal journey. It touches and changes every aspect of your life. Early on, I did not understand how work fit into a tapestry much larger than my family or me. Now, I know my conduct in business and at home has a profound and significant impact on many, even when it’s invisible to me. So I focus on fostering positive energy, and I start with my own gratitude. Each day, I use a journal to record all that I am grateful for from the last 24 hours. Throughout the day, I add to it. The exercise keeps my energy positive and creates a baseline of gratitude that informs all of my encounters.
Gratitude also affects my delegating style. Years back, I asked friends, colleagues and family what they loved about me. With their feedback and my own experience, I identified my unique ability. Knowing and being grateful for my strengths makes it easy to delegate work that is not in alignment, and it helps me tap others’ unique gifts and talents.
The constant flow of gratitude fuels me and is essential to my success as a female entrepreneur in a male-dominated industry. In opting to be my authentic self as an entrepreneur, I have been fortunate enough to live the experience of the great Robert Frost poem, The Road Not Taken: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
Whether you are a third-party originator or a funding source/bank, the responsibility lies with all parties to build partnerships based on mutual trust, mutual commitment, shared ideas and common goals.