THE BEST OF THE BEST: How did they do it?
Appearing in the Monitor 100 ranking is an achievement, but only the most successful companies in the industry make it to the top of the list. Guest Editor Bill Verhelle sat down with the leaders of six top companies to discuss the strategies they use to maintain dominance in such a complex and competitive marketplace.
The acid test of any business strategy is results. Customers decide which businesses succeed and which businesses fail. If marketplace acceptance is the ultimate test for a business, the businesses profiled in this article are the best of the best.
In a fragmented commercial equipment finance industry, with more than 4,000 participants in the U.S. alone, making the Monitor 100 list is itself a great honor. The top companies on the Monitor 100 are special. They have earned dominant positions in the industry over many years of effort and effective execution. The top Monitor 100 firms are the largest, most successful businesses in this $1 trillion per year U.S. commercial equipment finance marketplace.1 By definition, they are the most successful companies in our industry.
We thought it would be interesting to talk with the leaders of these companies to learn how they became so dominant in such a complex and competitive marketplace. What are the leaders of these largest firms thinking about as they guide their businesses into the future?
We invited the most successful companies to have a brief conversation to discuss the strategies that contributed to each company’s success. Our discussion revealed widely varying strategies and philosophies, as well as interesting expectations for the future.
After paying tribute to Wells Fargo’s long and successful history and deep experience in the commercial equipment finance marketplace, Kelly focused his comments on Wells Fargo’s unique corporate culture. Kelly believes the relatively recent combination of Wells Fargo and GE corporate cultures, as different as they were before the GE acquisitions, produced a stronger and better combined culture for the long-standing and highly successful Wells Fargo equipment finance business.
Kelly believes business success comes down to people, and he is “very positive regarding the many really, really good Wells Fargo people doing the right things every day — always putting Wells Fargo customers first.” As a large player in a large market, Kelly believes that Wells Fargo still has room to grow and better serve customers in a rapidly-changing marketplace.
Kelly discussed Wells Fargo’s technology strategy, acknowledging that technology is evolving rapidly in financial services so it’s important to remain agile and to make wise investments. Ultimately, Kelly believes Wells Fargo’s equipment finance businesses are making technology investments that create meaningful value for Wells Fargo customers.
Citing examples, Kelly suggested two types of projects are high on his list of priorities in equipment finance. The first example relates to projects that make it faster and easier for clients to get the financing they need, 24/7. According to Kelly, a variety of technologies are emerging that enable a faster and better client experience. The second type of technology change relates to new products designed to better meet evolving customer needs regarding managed services and new pay-per-use products. Development on both fronts continues as Kelly and his Wells Fargo team lead one of the most successful bank finance companies into the next decade.
Since joining CIT in 2016, Mike Jones has been impressed with the people and the exceptional technical capabilities of the company. As a competitor of the firm for many years, Jones had a healthy respect for CIT’s capabilities. Since assuming responsibility for leading the diverse CIT equipment finance businesses, Jones cites CIT’s ability to deeply and effectively integrate with customers as one of the firm’s key strengths.
“CIT has excellent technical capabilities and an amazing product line,” says Jones. “The technical evolution never ends; we are on a journey of automation and continuous improvement, and our team has embraced continuous change and development.” Ultimately, Jones says partners select CIT because “it’s easier to do business with us.”
Many CIT integrations are made possible through API (application program interface) connections established and optimized by technical experts, both internal and external to CIT. “These important points of technical and service differentiation are overseen and managed by the outstanding people on this CIT team,” says Jones.
Having had the privilege to work with Jim McGrain for 11 years, prior to McGrain’s untimely passing in 2014, Jones credits McGrain with influencing his leadership philosophy. Jones shares McGrain’s belief in the power of outstanding people to accomplish great things through a shared vision and a high level of trust. Jones sees great opportunity for CIT in the coming years, especially with the continued development of APIs and increasingly deep partner integration, which add great value for CIT’s valued customers.
The global economy remains good overall, and Volvo Financial Services recently concluded its fifth year of record profitability with its highest level of customer satisfaction ever recorded, yet Scott Rafkin isn’t celebrating yet. “Business cycle management is always a focus for Volvo Financial Services,” says Rafkin. He believes the quality of financial results is only as good as your performance in the next downturn.
“When you manage a big share of the parent company’s balance sheet,” says Rafkin, “you shoulder great responsibility to manage risk for the firm.” This is a focus for everyone in the Volvo Financial Services organization. Rafkin views an important part of his job as putting the best people into the right leadership roles. Combining the right leaders with empowerment and good governance creates the VFS business framework. Part of that model also involves combining local expertise with the firm’s global strength. VFS is a complex international business operating in 48 markets around the world. Yet this global enterprise shares a straightforward corporate culture based on transparency, trust and respect for the individual. Additional points of pride for Rafkin include VFS’ commitment to be the best learning organization in the industry, and VFS’ recognition in many markets as a certified company in connection with the Great Place to Work® organization.2
As Rafkin looks to the future, he sees great opportunity in the rapid pace of change occurring in financial services. Some of the opportunities contemplated at VFS include digitization, new business models, use-based models, potential partnerships with fintech firms and more. Whatever changes occur in the months and years ahead, Volvo Financial Services will continue its focus on providing Volvo customers with one-stop solutions that foster customer success and customer loyalty.
Bill Stephenson reflects positively on his long career with DLL, noting that some elements of DLL’s business strategy have changed, while other elements continue to serve DLL well. In particular, Stephenson mentioned DLL’s differentiation through industry segmentation and specialization. “We aren’t a mile long and an inch deep trying to serve all sectors of the market. We are in specific industries, specific segments within those industries,” said Stephenson.
Many members of the DLL leadership team have been with the company for 15 years or more. DLL often hires employees from the industries they serve, many of whom had successful careers selling equipment prior to joining DLL. “We have a great team who can credibly ‘talk shop’ with our partners and frame offerings in the right context. Our partners tell us this is one of the main reasons they do business with DLL,” noted Stephenson.
The global nature of DLL’s business is also an important capability. Since the global financial crisis, Stephenson suggests there are few firms that can effectively serve global manufacturers like DLL.
DLL also recognizes the rapid pace of change in the industry and the need to stay in front of the curve. In fact, Stephenson believes all large companies regardless of industry are vulnerable to disruption, as he communicated earlier this year in a keynote address to DLL employees. In his address, he noted that “the benefits DLL provides to customers” have not changed; but, “the manner in which the benefits are delivered to customers” is changing rapidly. In that sense, Stephenson is bullish on DLL’s future prospects, which includes initiatives introducing innovative technologies and DLL’s recent creation of a new global business unit focused on managed-services and pay-per-use models.
Ultimately, Stephenson attributed the success of the company to all of the outstanding employees of DLL. Last month, DLL celebrated its 50th anniversary. Stephenson believes the company’s focus on disruptive innovation and customer experience, combined with its people and products, will ensure success for another 50 years and beyond.
Operating in 95 countries, Caterpillar Financial Services Corporation (Cat Financial) has one of the most expansive geographic footprints in the commercial equipment finance industry. If anyone thinks that might induce Dave Walton, Caterpillar Financial Services President and CEO, to lower his expectations about the type of business they are building, they would be wrong. Walton and his team work each day to make Cat Financial, “the best financial services company that Caterpillar customers do business with … period.”
The inspiring vision Walton shares about the company’s commitment to excellence recognizes the important fact that Cat Financial must be very closely aligned with serving the parent company. “Everything we do is designed to help Caterpillar grow profitably,” says Walton. But to do so, Walton points out, “customers aren’t going to do business with Cat Financial unless we are a really good finance company.” So, Cat Financial is committed to building an exceptionally high performing global equipment finance operation.
Walton discussed the importance of his firm’s relationships with the Cat® dealer network. “Since we serve a network of dealers around the globe, maintaining a personal touch in our interactions with these valued dealers is always a top priority, so we are continuously developing new ways to better connect with them and our shared customers.”
Walton sees a changing landscape in the commercial equipment finance business. Customer portals have enabled self-service for Cat customers seeking 24/7 access to certain services. As Caterpillar expands its customer base into equipment buyers that prefer more of a retail experience, Walton and his team are working to provide technology-enhanced customer solutions including e-documents, digital signatures, convenient credit prequalification, faster turn-around and simpler self-service solutions.
After operating for over a decade in China — and after expanding into India and South Africa recently — Cat Financial continues to pioneer new markets while maintaining its commitment to building the highest quality, most customer focused financial services company in the world.
Dan Wong, EVP, talked about how the equipment finance company supports the long-term interests of the bank, in terms of all its lending and marketing and other business efforts. The bank’s equipment finance business changed following its acquisition of National City Bank just over a decade ago. “When we acquired National City Bank, we exited certain businesses and entered some new businesses,” said Wong. The bank isn’t shy about providing resources when the projects align with the banks long-term strategy.
Dave Keener, EVP, agreed with Wong’s comments and explained that in PNC’s specialty finance businesses, which he oversees — rail, aviation, Canadian-based business lending and other specialty capabilities — help to differentiate PNC from its competition and are primarily used to support the interests of PNC bank and its customers. Keener works with his specialty team to make sure his team’s efforts are closely aligned.
Daniel Daigneault, SVP, who oversees the equipment finance group’s commercial portfolio (companies with annual revenues of $5 million to $50 million) also acknowledged the bank’s evolution and growth. He is closely integrated with PNC’s C&I business strategy to be the leading relationship-based provider of core banking products and services, through the cycle. Daigneault stressed the support his team provides to help the bank provide important services to clients to grow existing relationships and to develop new relationships.
The executives also talked about PNC Bank’s continued investments in technology to improve efficiency and client experience as well as the bank’s capability to service much larger exposure limits based on its continued growth and marketplace success.
Several executives we talked to mentioned the importance of keeping up with the accelerating pace of change in our industry — a potentially more difficult challenge for larger, more complex businesses expanded during an era of consolidation, cost leadership and economies of scale. Agility, innovation and adaptability require different capabilities. As small companies test new technologies and new business strategies, established companies will likely use their vast resources and deep industry experience to drive internal innovation. The results of these efforts will likely be an interesting story to follow during the coming decade.
One important theme that seemed consistent among all these experienced leaders of the industry’s largest companies is the fact that business success usually comes down to people — outstanding employees do whatever it takes to find new and better ways to serve valued customers. Ultimately, our customers pick the winners and losers. Congratulations to the best of the best and to all of the 2019 Monitor 100 companies! •