by Markiesha Thompson Monitor 50th Anniversary 2023
Asking themselves “What would Abe do?” led Crit DeMent and Miles Herman to founding LEAF Commercial Capital. Chairman DeMent and CEO Miles explore their excitement and optimism for the equipment finance industry and how they are optimizing opportunities to grow LEAF in this dynamic sector.
Markiesha Thompson, Associate Editor, Monitor
Inspired by their mentor, two good friends and colleagues, Crit DeMent and Miles Herman, catapulted themselves into leading roles in the equipment finance scene when they founded LEAF Commercial Capital in 2001. DeMent, chairman, and Herman, CEO, found themselves taking the lessons they learned from Abe Bernstein, the former CEO of Master Lease Corporation and Tokai Financial Services, and pairing them with their creative ideas to start the small-ticket equipment leasing and finance company based in Philadelphia. DeMent and Herman share their passion for business with others by forging a path of opportunity for newcomers to the industry and prioritizing customer service in all they do at LEAF.
“Bernstein was a great mentor to many people, including me. He taught us the value of marketing, the importance of portfolio quality and that you shouldn’t ever compete on credit,” DeMent says.
DeMent started in equipment finance — like most — by chance, entering the industry while working at a car dealership fresh out of college. When the dealership’s finance
professional left, leaving the role vacant, DeMent’s boss suggested he give it a try. Ready to ditch selling cars and trucks, DeMent jumped at the opportunity and soon discovered the satisfaction of making deals financially feasible for customers in need of vehicles.
For Herman, his path to equipment finance all started when his younger brother let him know about a job opportunity in the industry. “Nearly 40 years later, here we are, and I think a big part of what got us here is a commitment to keeping our minds open, keeping our opportunities open and looking at every situation in a positive light,” Herman says.
Identifying creativity as a central component in the industry, Herman says answering questions like, “How do I get the equipment I need to drive growth before having the higher cash flow?” requires creative thinking and a consultative approach to working with customers.
That creativity pulled DeMent and Herman through the difficulties of finding LEAF’s way
as a company through the Great Recession and also while dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, which proved challenging. “Making sure customers were cared for and that our people were safe and able to continue to work was a big job in completely unfamiliar territory — and we had one chance to get it right,” Herman says. “The company was able to take care of thousands of customers by working with them to adjust contracts, as well as listening to their needs, [which] helped most of our clients to weather the pandemic.” According to Herman, this support of clients, vendors and the company’s people turned out to be one of the most outstanding efforts of his career.
“The success you’ll have as a leader will start with taking care of the people inside your walls,” DeMent says, echoing Herman and noting this is vital to taking care of your customers and sustaining long-term success as a leader.
During his career, Herman has found the growth of LEAF to be exciting, while the most rewarding aspect of DeMent’s career has been watching the career trajectory of the many people LEAF has brought into the industry over the years and sharing many milestones with them. Going from a new company to seeing the forward motion of its teams and individual growth of the company’s people has contributed to Herman’s desire to come to work every day. Herman also relishes the opportunity to see his employees become successful, whether someone it be someone just starting out or someone who’s looking for new opportunities. He also appreciates the opportunity to recruit to increase diversity. “I want to see as many people as possible achieve their personal goals,” Herman says. “It’s just very exciting to me to be part of that.”
DeMent and Herman consider the LEAF team to be a part of their families, sometimes literally, as one of the most challenging and rewarding parts of Herman’s career has been watching his son and other family members of the team join them in working at LEAF.
As a board member of the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association and the Equipment Leasing & Finance Foundation, Herman has enjoyed watching the diversity in the industry grow. Reaching out to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), offering internships and co-ops, and recruiting ex-military candidates contributes to the efforts being made to grow the industry and show people there is more than one way to be successful in equipment finance. “It’s a big tent,” Herman says, “and growing bigger, with lots of room for everyone.” LEAF’s focus on outreach has helped increase interest in the industry and put it on people’s radars as a place to build a career.
As friends and leaders, Herman and DeMent continue the work of their mentor by passing on knowledge to industry newcomers through recruiting efforts aimed at helping employees grow into leadership positions.
Forever a salesman, DeMent believes that no matter what career choice he made, he would have worked in a sales and marketing role, even if he wasn’t in this industry, “Owning a bait shop always seemed like an attractive thing to do,” DeMent says. “If you can sell leasing, you can sell just about anything.”
If anyone is considering equipment finance as a career, Herman recommends they give it a try, calling the industry one of the “best-kept secrets.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Markiesha Thompson is associate editor of Monitor.
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