Transformational Leadership: How and Why Good Leadership Applies Directly to Important Changes in the Equipment Finance Industry

by Brianna Wilson Monitor 100 2022
Ten industry leaders sat down with Monitor to discuss the emerging and necessary changes that will be made in the equipment finance industry and how great leadership can contribute to, respond to and implement those changes.
Top Row, Right to Left: Rich Irwin, CFO & Treasurer, Marlin Capital Solutions; Kyin Lok, CEO, Dext Capital; Adam Ohme, Vice President of Underwriting, Channel Partners Capital; Denis Stypulkoski, Founder, Reimagine Advisors; Mike Jones, President, Business Capital, CIT.

Bottom Row, Right to Left: Shai Adary, Vice President of Sales, Regents Capital; Brian Barbetto, Chief Credit Officer, Dakota Financial; Justine Cook, Director of Operations, CIT, a division of First Citizens Bank; Cristian Diaz, Manager of Technology Development, Amur Equipment Finance; Brian Holland, President & CFO, Fleet Advantage

The only reliability in change is the fact that it will always happen. As an industry that is constantly changing, equipment finance must be prepared to handle sudden shifts.

One of the most notable and persistent changes is the fact that the industry is getting younger. Many companies are, or should be, focused on attracting and engaging younger talent, who often know how to handle complex technology with minimal training. The industry is also becoming more diverse in terms of hiring more people from underrepresented groups and learning to be more innovative.

But the equipment finance industry is still struggling to find a balance in using but not abusing technology, dealing with generational disparities and perpetuating mindsets that hold its companies and its people back (i.e., being afraid to embrace failure or take risks, refusing change because the old way of doing things works, refusing to accept leadership as anything other than ‘what I say goes’). Good leadership can resolve these issues.

To what extent does good leadership contribute to the need for change?

Responding to change takes persistence and creativity, which leaders are expected to have. Being the reason something changes takes even more persistence and creativity. “If a leader is looking to lead a transformation for their company, the leader has to paint a picture of the future,” Denis Stypulkoski, founder of Reimagine Advisors, says. “They have to create a clear and compelling vision of what that future is. They have to hold it in their hands and talk to people about it and get people to go, ‘Yes, I can see it,’ and be inspirational in that regard.”

It is often solely in a leaders’ hands to guide a company to implement changes — whether these are immediate or down-the-line shifts. “When it comes to leadership, there are certain times where everybody’s looking to you, and nothing’s going to change unless you do it, unless you implement something,” Brian Barbetto, chief credit officer at Dakota Financial, says.

But this is not always the case. “When I was coming up through the ranks, it was definitely a ‘command and control’ structure. That doesn’t work today,” Brian Holland, president and CFO of Fleet Advantage, says. “People want to be engaged; they want to be part of the process, rather than just following directions.”

Recently, when Rich Irwin, CFO and treasurer at Marlin Capital Solutions, was training a new person on his team, he did so through a ‘watch and learn’ tactic, meaning his new hire learned how to do their job through Irwin’s process. However, Irwin had to let his new hire fly solo on a project so Irwin could focus on other important things. “He came back with something that just blew my process completely away. That was an ‘a-ha!’ moment for me, where I [was thinking] ‘I need to change my whole perspective on things’ because the right way of doing things is not my way all the time,” Irwin says.

As an advocate for diversity and inclusion, Justine Cook, director of operations at CIT, a division of First Citizens Bank, is a perfect example of what it means to learn from one’s team. “I have taken a role in our diversity and inclusion over the years, and that has opened my eyes to all the different backgrounds and how I can learn from my peers and people that come from different backgrounds. [I learned] the importance of people being their authentic selves and not feeling like they needed to fit [a certain] mold [within the industry].” This has led to internal discussions with Cook and her team about how everyone ended up in the equipment finance industry and how sharing these stories with one another in diversified spaces opens a pathway for team-building and stronger teamwork down the line.

What is good leadership?

‘Good leadership’ prompts dozens of buzzwords from industry leaders: innovation, collaboration, communication, transparency, care, passion, transformation — and the list goes on. “There are all sorts of different leadership styles and many can be effective … but I think the biggest thing is being authentic and being your real self,” Kyin Lok, CEO of Dext Capital, says. “Many people respond to different things, so you almost have to get an understanding of what they’re looking for in the interactions with you in trying to be able to tailor your leadership style to what they’re looking for.”

Transformation on both the internal and external level is important to industry leaders. After all, if there is no singular best style of leadership, there also is no end to leadership development. “It’s a constant evolution,” Mike Jones, president of CIT, a division of First Citizens Bank, says. “I don’t think you ever stop learning. I think, at the point that you think that you’ve learned everything, you’re probably ready to stop and retire.”

The ‘servant leadership’ model is something that many companies in the equipment finance industry are adopting. Every one of the industry leaders that spoke with Monitor for this article spoke to ‘servant leadership’ in some form. Cristian Diaz, manager of technology development at Amur, believes that “great leadership means understanding the needs of your people and putting those needs before yours. I think there’s a lot of insecurities in the leadership ranks, from my experience, and I think those insecurities lead people to try to overcompensate and steal from their people sometimes.”

Shai Adary, vice president of sales at Regents Capital, also follows a servant leadership model on a personal level: “I learned a lot of this in STRIPES [Leadership Program]. A great leader is someone who cares intensely about their team but also challenges them directly as well. So, through their passion, the team knows their value, but a great leader is always pushing them out of a comfort zone, allowing them to really be the best versions of themselves, and allowing them to think outside the box and achieve things that maybe weren’t even in a realm of possibility. . .. What really helped me a lot was the heavy investment in leadership training — that was STRIPES.”

Continuous learning, transformation and the servant leadership model — all these pieces put together form fantastic leaders. Great leaders bring great ideas to the table, opportunities for collaboration and overall successful, innovative companies and teams.

A successful company begins with successful leaders. How do we get there?

Mike Jones believes creating great leadership requires “focusing on diversity and focusing on the youth — but not only focusing, investing in them, investing in leadership training, getting them involved with [the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association] and other organizations so they can get greater exposure and grow quicker.”

Jones clarifies that investing in people is not purely about money; investing in people means mentorship programs, leadership programs, tailored experiences that push people to be the best that they can be. “You’ve got to take the best of the best and focus on them, but those other folks that are developing, you have to work with them too. I think you can do that at a relatively low cost — just an investment of time,” Jones says.

“We’re still filling the void of some larger companies that used to have good development programs for leaders. We still lack that in our industry,” Lok says. “Actually, Monitor with STRIPES was one way to address it. I think it’s important for us to make sure that we continue to focus on giving this next generation and leaders the opportunities that we ourselves had at one point in time.”

Leadership development programs teach leaders, no matter how much leadership experience they do or do not have, how to approach leadership in new ways and how to be open to new styles of leadership and new ideas surrounding transformation. “I love STRIPES because STRIPES recognizes that there’s a need for transformation in our industry, and we need to elevate the best and brightest of the next generation to become those leaders that are going to lead us through transformation,” Stypulkoski says.

“Transformational leadership is a never-ending journey, and leadership development on a personal level is a never-ending journey.”

Investing in leadership development is also a clear way for companies to show that they care about their people. “From my perspective, Channel has always valued collaboration, building strong bonds internally, and strives to treat employees well,” Adam Ohme, vice president of underwriting at Channel Partners Capital, says. “Being part of STRIPES Leadership Program is a very good indication that [Channel] is serious and is investing the money and the resources to put individuals through that.”

While there is no ‘perfect leadership style,’ great leadership starts with the foundational mindset that a leader never finishes learning and is not above (or ‘better than’) their team. This type of transformational leadership is the catalyst for an industry that values its people, finds the best ways to do complex work and is always prepared for the unexpected.

About the author: Brianna Wilson is the program manager for STRIPES Leadership Program, in partnership with Monitor.

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