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CIT Group – Constructing a Team to Capitalize on the Economic Upswing

Date: Jul 15, 2021 @ 05:00 AM

CIT Group’s Equipment Finance business, part of the Business Capital division, this spring made a bold move, hiring new business development leaders for the Northeast, West and Southwest regions. Wayne Wagner, Mark Johnson, Brad Maguire and JP DeStefano joined CIT as Vice Presidents for Business Development on the Industrial team.

The move came as the economy appeared to be shifting out of depths on the pandemic. That rise, along with signs that the U.S. would aggressively fund construction and other industrial sectors, drove the move. The group of business development veterans report to Industrial Group Director Harold Ray, a 27-year veteran of CIT who has been through a number of economic downturns.

Equipment Finance Advisor talked with Ray to learn the strategies behind the hirings, how the moves are impacting the division so far and his outlook for the division in 2021, among other items.

Equipment Finance Advisor:In April, CIT Group announced the Industrial team within Equipment Finance was adding business development executives. What prompted this move and what drove the timing?

Equipment Finance article with Harold Ray, Director Equipment Finance-Industrial for CIT

Harold Ray: A couple of things were behind it. First, the industrial market has always been perceived as a growth market for CIT, and for the United States. Additionally, there is a lot of talk around infrastructure spending, so it made sense to hire these  experienced people in the strategic areas we focused on. It’s like a hub-and-spoke structure where each one of the new hires is located in targeted metropolitan areas and they’re serving multiple areas in that geographic region. For example, JP DeStefano is in Texas and he is servicing Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, Albuquerque and Oklahoma City. Wayne Wagner, who’s in the Northeast region, is located in Pittsburgh and  is handling everything up into Maine, down into the D.C. region and across Pennsylvania. There are nine different metropolitan areas he covers. Mark Johnson is in the West. He’s located in Oregon and is handling the Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada and Colorado areas. Within those states, he is covering 10 metropolitan areas. And, our newest sales officer, Brad Maguire, is located in the mid-Atlantic region.   

We did an extensive search. It took us time to find the right people who had the variety of skills – managing external client relationships and complex risks, understanding documentation, portfolio and legal considerations, and interacting internally and externally with people. Having two blind parents has taught me to overcome problems and obstacles. That’s been my norm all of my life, as you can imagine. On top of that, being a devoted sci-fi kid as well as a passionate follower of our national space program, I just love NASA for its ability to work and solve the problem at hand no matter how big or dangerous. For people of NASA, t’s always about working the problem. I’ve tried to take a similar approach in our business because the challenges and obstacles vary each and every day, causing us to develop new solutions for our vendors and end-user customers. So having the right kind of person capable of “working the problem” is critical. It took us a little time to find them, and I’m confident that in this crew we’ve found the “Right Stuff” and the right mix.

These new members join a great team of sales professionals. Lisa Buehler who handles the Southwest; Wayne Wagner, who covers the Northeast for us; and Kevin Watkins, who handles the Midwest. Myra Dye services our wholesale relationships for the platform, and Mike Edwards is the platform’s OEM Business Development Officer. It made sense to do it that way, considering the prospects in both the material handling business and the construction business. All of these professionally are supported internally by a great people in originations, risk, legal, portfolio, asset management and other areas. It’s a team event as we don’t do it and have this level of successes without them.

Man, I’ve told so many people that I’m a lucky guy that I love my career. I’ve said this on so many occasions that I’ve been paid to make the relationship, create the friendship that allows the free flow of creative ideas and candid communication, and, lastly as important, solve the problem. To me, it’s that simple. And, the people that work with me believe that. We focus on keeping the sales function that simple - both externally and internally. These people have the ability to talk to the C-level type of customer base. They’re also talking to the contractor who may be in his pickup truck and will have to visit a site wearing their jeans and their boots. It takes a unique blend to do both of those things.

Equipment Finance Advisor: In the time since CIT announced the hirings, what have you seen so far from this team?

Ray: I am pleasantly surprised. First with the amount of business that they’ve turned up from some of our existing base. But I’m more ecstatic with the new business development that they are pulling through. Specifically, in our construction and material handling markets I’m very pleasantly surprised with the amount of new business prospects we’ve generated in just six weeks. A lot of the prospects we’re uncovering will yield $2 million to $5 million of new business volume per year to CIT. That is a great find for someone in their area.

Equipment Finance Advisor: What is your target market for transactions?

Ray: We look for transactions anywhere from $50,000 to about $3.5 million. We really service three clients. First, the equipment manufacturer (OEM), which we support through a national finance program serviced by our regional and program sales personnel. Next, the dealer / vendors that are supported by our regionals who may sell multiple product lines. And, finally, the end-user customer that’s purchasing and then either financing or leasing those units through us. Our end-user clients run from small and mid-sized businesses to Fortune 1000 companies. It is important for the regional reps to be able to talk to a small customer, as well as a Fortune 1000 customer. We provide loans, capital leases and operating leases to the end-user customers as well as supplying fleet rental financing to the dealers. So, as you can see, it’s a unique skillset that this team must possess as it’s blended with the open and candid dialogue that they must have their dealers. These people are trusted partners of our dealers, helping in many cases to bring home the equipment sale and making it easier for their customer to obtain.  

Equipment Finance Advisor: You’ve mentioned construction and material handling, are those the areas where you are expecting to see the biggest amount of growth in 2021?

Ray: Our focus is construction, material handling, transportation and manufacturing. We understand all those markets very well. I’m looking at construction and material handling as two of our focus points. If you think about the infrastructure of construction and the opportunities, you’re talking about roads, bridges, buildings, airports – all of those need financing. And there are myriad opportunities that we’re seeing in that area all over the country. At the same time, think of material handling as the needs of warehouse fulfillment, forklifts, elements of the supply chain – all that equipment also needs financing. The customers are different, but the principles are the same: The capacity to generate cashflow and the ability to repay debt. Both of these fields are constructed with specialized equipment, and a dealer who is supporting an existing demand or an anticipated future demand by a customer. It works well for what we’re doing.

Equipment Finance Advisor: Any surprises so far this year in any other sectors?

Ray: The transportation market obviously is up. At one point. you had the transportation market decline, and then the pandemic hit. The need for people to have product sent to their house, or more product supplied to the likes of grocery stores – the Targets, the Walmarts – of the world, pushed up the demand for drivers in the transportation market. It took a dip, and it appears it’s starting to experience a little bit of an uptick. There’s more of a recognition of the supply of goods that’s needed. I think that has pushed the transportation or logistics market to be better than it was prior to the pandemic.

Equipment Finance Advisor: How did the Industrial group fare in 2020?

Ray: I’ve been at CIT a long time. When you say you’ve seen everything, something else crops up that’s new. I never would have thought that we would have been in the middle of a pandemic. We fared pretty well. It forced us to communicate with our customers differently – whether it was Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, text, email and phone calls. I don’t think those forms of communications are going away now. But I think that at the end of the day, it’s still about relationships. Where others have slipped, my team has worked to pull market share for CIT. I think our team does a great job of making our clients feel like big fish in small ponds. That’s why we continue to win: Our relationships are long-term, even through a pandemic. A lot of our relationships have been with us, and with me, through different economic downturns. I take pride in that.

Equipment Finance Advisor: What do you expect for 2021?

Ray: We’re optimistic that in the market where we play, there’s a continued need for equipment. The manufacturers will tell you they can’t keep up with orders. New equipment orders are somewhat behind; the customers who were on the fence for the last 12 months, are coming out of the woodwork wanting to buy. From our standpoint at CIT, it’s about us having the capital. It’s also about making it easy for the client – and making it friendly for them to come back. At this point, I’m extremely bullish with the people that I have in place. I’m also extremely bullish because of the support that we constantly get from the likes of Ken Martin, Managing Director, Small Business Solutions, and Mike Jones, President, CIT Business Capital, which includes the Equipment Finance, the Industrial group and Small Business Solutions. We believe in the industrial market and all the indications and the discussions that I am having with equipment dealers and manufacturers support that view.

Equipment Finance Advisor: What keeps you up at night?

Ray: I take a lot of lessons from my past. My dad was a big history guy. Twenty to 25 years ago, we used to walk into a place called Blockbuster and buy a movie. That was a family event  on Friday night. Now we don’t do that; seems like we stream everything these days. Man, what keeps me up at night? That’s a great question. Innovation and speed and making the experience for our customers the best. For us at CIT, it’s always about “being.” And as I talk about speed, being friendly, being knowledgeable, being flexible, those things keep me up because I know those are the way you differentiate yourself in the market. Certain organizations will differentiate themselves by price, but that only lasts so long. Meaningful relationships are built with those pillars that I mentioned. Those keep me up at night. They wake me up in the morning. I want our customers to be treated the way I want to be treated. For me, it’s that customer experience. And it’s really important to have that with our base.

Mike Dickinson
Editor | Equipment Finance Advisor
Mike Dickinson is Editor of Equipment Finance Advisor. Dickinson has more than 30 years of experience as an Editor and Reporter. He spent 20-plus years at the Rochester Business Journal in Rochester, NY, including 18 years as Managing Editor. He also covered Eastman Kodak, technology, optics and telecommunications, among other areas. His writing and reporting on Eastman Kodak won 1st Place – 2012 National Newspaper Association Best Business Story and the Gold Award – 2012 Alliance of Area Business Publishers for Breaking-news coverage. He also won the Silver Award – 2001 Alliance of Area Business Publishers Best Coverage of Local Breaking News – Global Crossing. Prior to working in the business news arena, Dickinson was a reporter for the daily newspapers in Syracuse, NY, and Batavia, NY. Dickinson holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Communications/Journalism from St. Bonaventure University.
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