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Wells Fargo’s McQueen: Finding Balance in the Next Phase

Date: Oct 01, 2014 @ 07:00 AM

Last July, Wells Fargo Equipment Finance (WFEF) announced its group head, John McQueen, would be retiring at year end. McQueen, who has nearly 30 years of industry experience under his belt, assumed the leadership position at WFEF in the early days of 2006 as successor to another highly regarded industry veteran, James Renner. Under McQueen’s leadership, Wells Fargo Equipment Finance has ascended in the industry rankings from the fifth largest among the bank-affiliated equipment finance companies to the second largest company in the sector.

Recently, Equipment Finance Advisor spent time with McQueen, who reflected on his career and his most memorable professional accomplishments. In addition, McQueen shared his thoughts on broader and equally important work/life balance issues.

A native of the state that boasts 10,000 lakes, McQueen earned his bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Minnesota and began his professional career at IBM. McQueen’s career at IBM spanned 17 years, ten of which were spent at what was then called IBM Credit Corp. “I had a couple of interesting opportunities at IBM,” McQueen recalls. “I was regional sales manager from 1985 until 1990 and then was operations manager for the eastern half of the country. That was a very different kind of opportunity for me, yet it was a typical IBM career development pathway.”

A planner and builder by nature, McQueen eventually became the national sales manager for IBM’s middle-market client base. It was then he created and launched the newly conceived middle-market business for IBM Credit. He says, “That was a very enjoyable time for me. We worked with a consultants and customers in building that business model and determining the best way to approach the market.” That opportunity and the experience McQueen gained during that period proved to be significant in the years that followed.

Photo of John M. McQueen - EVP and Group Head - Wells Fargo Equipment Finance

In 1994, McQueen left IBM to join Norwest Equipment Finance. He reflects, “Norwest Equipment Finance was mostly a startup and when I joined, I launched the vendor business and was also assigned the wholesale and syndications businesses. What I had done at IBM really prepared me in building the vendor business. I was able to transfer many of the concepts we had built at IBM and they worked successfully.” And for McQueen, professional success followed as well. By 1997, McQueen’s responsibilities had expanded to include part of the bank channels and in 1999, McQueen was named the national sales manager for what was by then, the combined Norwest and Wells Fargo equipment finance portfolios. Four years later he was named the Chief Operating Officer and was assigned not only to sales, but operations as well. In 2006, McQueen became the business head.

Other than the planning and implementation experience McQueen acquired along the way, he notes other influencing factors, not the least of which is the equipment finance industry itself. “As an industry, equipment finance is very unique in many ways. It is independent and very entrepreneurial. That was refreshing after having worked at the ‘big’ IBM for a number of years.

“Coming over to Norwest and in the early years of Wells Fargo, we were still very small … it was a lot of fun and you got to do a lot of different things. We managed each business as a P&L business and I enyoyed that experience. Initially I liked the fact that equipment finance was really financial selling.  I liked the contract negotiations and that the business was transaction focused. It fit well with my personal style.”

While the years have passed and equipment finance has changed in many ways, McQueen notes his deep appreciation for the industry has yet to fade. “It’s a great industry that has obviously seen a great deal of change over the last 20 or 30 years. While things like tax advantages and regulations have changed, the industry always finds a way to adapt.”

McQueen acknowledges his predecessor for both the preparation and the opportunity to move into the top position. “Jim is the one person who has had more to do with my professional development than anyone else. He showed me how to transition from being a sales manager into a business manager and shared his perspective in running the business as a P&L. He’s a great guy and we still remain close friends to this day.”

We asked McQueen to reflect on the most gratifying accomplishments achieved during his long career in equipment finance. Without hesitation he explains, “It was when I came to Norwest to build the vendor business. That was a very big challenge and I may have thought twice if I had realized how big a challenge it really was at the time. I remember having more than a few sleepless nights but in the end, it turned out great. In four years, we were able to grow volume from $50 million to $550 million.  We hired some great sales people, we were opportunistic and we created a great business model. It was really a great accomplishment.”

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