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A Different Kind of Washington...Industry Brings Optimism, Creativity to Nation’s Capital

Date: Oct 15, 2012 @ 07:00 AM

With the presidential election only weeks away, it could be difficult to think of Washington, D.C. as little more than a hot bed of political maneuvering, aggressive campaigning and conflicting viewpoints and ideologies. Yet for the more than 400 equipment leasing professionals in attendance at the National Equipment Finance Association’s (NEFA) Funding Symposium in mid-September, the nation’s capital proved to be anything but. And while the uncertainties of the global economy came up in more than one conversation; pragmatism, cooperation, camaraderie and acceptance of new ideas and approaches took center stage at this year’s event. Equipment Finance Advisor caught up with Hugh Swandel who offers his thoughts on the event as well as reflects on his tenure as NEFA’s outgoing president.

Swandel notes: “The energy level was very high even though there’s still a great degree of uncertainty about the economy, but the group at our conference are definitely the survivors in this industry. They are the ones who are advancing their businesses. And the fact that we had over 50 first-timers come this year speaks volumes. We still attract the ‘old guard,’ and they’re great. At the same time, I think it’s the younger group that brings a lot to the high energy level.”

Concerns Still Linger, But Checked at the Door

Photo of Hugh Swandel, President, National Equipment Finance AssociationUncertainty is still at the top of everyone’s mind, Swandel concedes, but this year’s crowd was far from morose. “I think the uncertainty caused people to be pragmatic. We’re in the final stretch of the elections, Europe is hanging over everyone’s heads and there are global tensions, especially in the Mideast. But those issues have been going on for so long, our attendees were more than willing to check those uncertainties at the door and buckle down and get to work.”

And Swandel contends, the spirit the younger members bring, contributes greatly to this. “They face things just the way they are – they aren’t hanging on to the past. They see today’s environment as their opportunity and that’s refreshing. It might sound really trite, but their energy is infectious and you’re around that energy you start to see things in different ways. And our executive director, Gerry Egan, has done a great job in attracting new people by creating incentives to our existing membership to expose their younger staff to the industry.”

As Swandel sees it, the ability to expand and remain relevant to its members is the chief area of concern for any association. And if the younger crowd energizes an association, it’s far from being a one-sided proposition at NEFA. He explains, “As much as they bring energy to us, they too are impressed with NEFA and that gives me optimism for the future.

“I think the challenge for any association is remembering to listen to your membership. But at NEFA, we haven’t lost sight of why we exist in the first place – to provide our members with networking opportunities and educational content that features both new as well as traditional methodologies for succeeding in our industry. We think that will continue to bring in new people and inspire the existing members.”

Keeping Relevant in a Changing Landscape

To be sure, expanding membership and keeping relevant to your constituency is no small feat considering the industry-wide shifts that came with the latest recession. To boot, the journey toward recovery economists report began (at least technically, if not experientially) in June of 2009 has been arduous. He says, “Without a doubt, the credit crisis had a huge impact on the industry and at NEFA, we recognize we now have to work within the industry as it stands today. The good news is, the industry is showing signs of growing again – it’s smaller of course, but smarter too.”

But Swandel explains significant challenges still remain. “Virtually every sector has changed,” he asserts. “And if you meet an equipment dealer today, their concerns are very different than they were ten years ago. You need to be inclusive of their needs if you’re going to survive in this business. While we still finance equipment with term lending or leasing, what vendors and lessees want is still evolving. How we give it to them is also evolving, whether it’s on the Internet or a hand-held device through a mobile app. My point is the expectations are changing and if you’re out ahead of those expectations and you’re providing something before somebody knows they want it, you’re going to gain market share.”

In spite of the constant changes, he assures, “If you’re just catching up, you can catch up. But I think belonging to an association can have you be aware of how far behind you might be.”

The Benefits of Association: No Two Ways About It

Swandel’s message is the same to his successor, John Roselund who will serve as the Association’s president in 2013. “What’s my message to John? Listen to the membership … reflect their needs and wants. Make sure they are getting the results they want out of conferences and networking opportunities and in turn, they’ll succeed. It’s not a complicated model.”

As with any association, changes of leadership include a succession plan. As such, Swandel assures he and Roselund have been in frequent communication. He notes, “We’ve spoken often and at NEFA, we make every attempt to build continuity in leadership so whoever takes the reins is aware of the issues, concerns and the direction the association is headed. And of course, Gerry is also there to help with the continuity.”

As a senior managing director at The Alta Group covering Canada, Swandel is equally passionate in extolling the benefits of association participation to his clients. He states, “I often times tell my clients, ‘If you’re a part of an industry, you should be visible in that industry.’ Participation shows a company’s commitment to help the industry. And awhile back when we had all those frauds that happened with leasing companies, at every industry association there was considerable discussion about clarifying its position and how to help regulate the industry. At the association level, we set out to show that we were educating the members as to what the good practices are. And I think NEFA has been light years ahead in that effort by offering educational sessions on the topics of ethics and best practices.”

Glancing Back … And Then Forward

As Swandel prepares to add the phrase “Immediate Past” to his NEFA title, I asked him to set modesty aside, look back at his tenure and share what he deems to be Association’s most significant accomplishment in 2012. His response was a bit surprising. He says, “For me, it’s both a personal as well as an association accomplishment. It’s renaming our Member of the Year Award in honor of Chris Walker, who passed away from cancer earlier this year. I think that was fundamentally important because Chris was so unassuming, yet he did so much for the CLP Foundation and our association by demonstrating quiet leadership and always being involved at a senior level. While Chris was one in a million, the opportunity to have the award presented in Chris’ memory to individuals that contribute in a similar way makes me proud.”

While it’s the end of the line as association president, Swandel is quick to point out that it’s far from over as it relates to his NEFA involvement. “I originally got involved with WAEL and UAEL when I first started working in the industry in Canada. I’m amazed when companies don’t get their people involved with the industry associations. I’ve learned so much and gained so much insight throughout the years. For me, being involved is a no brainer.”

Hugh Swandel is managing director of The Alta Group in Canada. He also serves as president of the National Equipment Financing Association (NEFA) and on the board of directors of the Canadian Finance and Leasing Association (CFLA) and is a member of the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association (ELFA). In 2006 and again in 2010, he received the Canadian leasing industry’s highest honor when he was named “CFLA Member of the Year.”

Prior to founding his firm, Swandel and Associates, in 2001, Swandel served as president and chief operation officer of Electronic Financial Group, a Canadian company that launched a multi-lending web based credit system. Earlier, he spent ten years with National Leasing Group in a variety of senior positions.

Executive Editor | Equipment Finance Advisor
Stuart Papavassiliou is the Executive Editor of Equipment Finance Advisor and ABL Advisor.

Contact Stuart Papavassiliou at 484.380.2964 or

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