The Creative Analytic: Tackling Challenges with a Broader Pivot

by Grace A. Garwood October 2020
NextGen industry icon Allison Conley utilizes creative and analytical agility to tackle challenges, solve hard problems, promote diversity and quench her lifelong thirst for learning.

Allison Conley,
Assistant Finance Manager,
LEAF Commercial Capital

Allison Conley’s favorite thing about being assistant finance manager at LEAF Commercial Capital is having very hard problems to solve. “I never get bored,” Conley says. Finding new challenges is a driving force in her career. “The opportunity to keep learning new things is what keeps me in the industry,” she says.

In college, Conley pursued a dual undergraduate major in business and dance, which utilized her ability to flex the creative and analytical sides of her brain equally. “I am whole-brain dominant,” Conley says. “That ability helps me understand the industry from a broader perspective so I can begin to tackle its biggest challenges.”

Conley started as an intern at LEAF, an opportunity she found through a personal connection. “My mother’s friend, Pam Molchan, is a senior director of business intelligence at LEAF. Pam knew I was studying business, and she referred me to LEAF’s intern program.” In those days, Conley worked as a LEAF intern four days a week — with a two-hour commute to Philadelphia — and one day a week at a retail job. “It was pretty intense, but I was having fun,” Conley says.

After graduation, Conley returned to LEAF and applied to two different jobs — one in pricing and one in operations. “I was looking for a professional opportunity that would hold my interest. I went for the pricing job because I thought it would be more challenging.” This role gave Conley visibility with upper management and enabled her to work with sales managers.

Change Management

Conley’s current position at LEAF involves a challenging business integration project. “We’re moving from an IDS system to an Odessa platform, and that impacts nearly every functional user at LEAF, from the front-end originations side to the back-end servicing side,” Conley says. “My role is to understand the business requirements and make sure they are implemented in the way the business expects. I help test those functional requirements and I train our users to understand the way the new platform works.”

The shift to Odessa is a big investment for LEAF, and the company plans to carry out many more related business integration projects. “I’m excited to play a guiding role in this effort,” Conley says.

With new technological integrations on the rise across the industry, change management roles like Conley’s can be very helpful to ensure a smooth transition. “When Process A becomes Process B, it scares people and they resist it because they don’t think it will work. I have to make sure everyone’s concerns are heard and that they understand what the change means to them,” Conley says.

When Conley experiences resistance to change, her focus is to remain cool, calm and collected. “I don’t want people to be afraid to work with me or have the experience that I will force them to come around to something quicker than they need to,” Conley says. “You really can’t force change on people — you have to walk them through it. They need their own timeline to come around to new ideas.”

Building Stronger Futures

To onboard talented individuals directly from college, LEAF has two effective approaches that other equipment finance companies might consider. “We attend college job fairs,” Conley says. “We also do an intern program with Drexel University. That arrangement gives interns an opportunity to learn more in six months before fully committing to a career in equipment finance.”

To future leaders looking to challenge the status quo, Conley believes that expressing personal views with trusted people is a good place to start. “Strive to be braver than you are afraid,” Conley says. “As a rising talent, your ideas may wind up with a no. But at the very least, you’ve had your ideas expressed and your voice heard.”

Conley also embraces the value of mentorship in career path development, citing Crit DeMent, chairman and CEO of LEAF; Miles Herman, president and chief operating officer of LEAF; and Paul Tyczkowski as essential to her own professional journey. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without their support,” Conley says. Tyczkowski, who is SVP of finance and Conley’s mentor at LEAF, always encourages her to take on new challenges.

“Since joining LEAF four years ago, Allison has become a highly valued member of the finance team,” Tyczkowski says. “Known for a maturity beyond her years and an agile, logical mind, she plays a lead role on the business team that is supporting the transition of our core systems from InfoLease to LeaseWave. Her ability to multitask on broad topics and contribute sound logical solutions to problems is outstanding.”

Conley also is currently enrolled in the part-time MBA program at Temple University. “I always knew I’d be doing graduate work because I consider myself to be a lifetime learner. To be honest, I’m kind of a nerd. I enjoy learning things. I don’t think there’s ever a reason to stop learning, and having the MBA credential strengthens who I am and the value I can bring to LEAF and our industry,” Conley says.

Embracing Equality & Diversity

One of Conley’s biggest career challenges has been overcoming some of the impressions or biases that people might have about her as a young female professional. “I think that, at times, some people are a bit surprised by where I am in my career, especially at this age,” Conley says.  “When I experience any resistance in this way, I do my best to be patient and meet the person where they are. I work to build and strengthen the relationship.”

Conley cares a great deal about equality and she is committed to that cause. “I really hope that our industry continues to concentrate on these issues. I’m allowed to bring my whole self to work every day, and I want everyone to feel the same way in our industry so we can effect change at the collective level,” Conley says.

Conley considers the industry’s lack of diversity and inclusion to be a crucial target for change. “With equipment finance and financial services, when you go to industry conferences, you don’t see a great deal of diversity. Going forward, it’s important that we pay attention to the issues of social and racial injustice that have happened this past year,” Conley says.

“We need to make diversity and inclusion a priority, and we can begin by looking at other ways other industries have tackled these issues,” Conley says. “We need to welcome people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives and promote them so that their views are also included.”

Conley is also a member of the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association’s Equality Committee. “It’s so great we’re making progress there, and we need to continue on that track going forward,” Conley says. “I know these things take time, and we need to make this a top priority in our country. The equipment finance industry could be a leader in causing this change.” •

Grace A. Garwood is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn, NY.

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