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CIT’s Solk -- Transforming Into a Leading Middle-Market Bank

Date: Apr 20, 2016 @ 07:00 AM
Filed Under: Executive Leadership

Perhaps it’s paradoxical, but as one embarks on the pathway to simplicity, one is bound to encounter a certain degree of complexity. Transforming a business is no different. In March of this year, CIT’s then incoming Chairwoman and CEO Ellen Alemany addressed the company’s stakeholders and industry analysts to communicate a straightforward message regarding what the future holds for the 108-year old commercial finance company: CIT is creating a leading national middle-market bank while maintaining and expanding its core lending, leasing and deposit solutions.

Equipment Finance Advisor recently spoke with Steve Solk, President of CIT Business Capital, to gain his perspective on his role in achieving the company’s goal. In this interview, Solk weighs in on a host of topics ranging from his vision for the various units he oversees to Alemany’s leadership style. And who better to discuss these topics? No stranger to commercial finance, Solk’s career has afforded him the opportunity to run both leasing and asset-based lending units. In addition, he has first-hand experience with Alemany’s leadership skills having worked with the banking executive in previous positions at Citigroup and RBS Citizens.

Paths Converge at Citi, Citizens and CIT

Solk, who joined CIT in December of 2015, began his banking career in 1980 as a corporate lender and business banker at Bank of America. In 1987, Solk joined Citigroup where he remained for the next 21 years. It was at Citigroup that Solk first entered the world of commercial finance and worked under Alemany. He explains, “In the early years at Citi, I had the opportunity to run multiple specialty lending and leasing businesses. My Citi career started in the restaurant franchise business where I was the national sales manager of Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut brands. Later I ran the unit’s structured commercial paper conduit financing programs in collaboration with the top restaurant franchisors as well as with national oil companies providing financing for growth of their retail networks. Ultimately, I ran the entire group for more than ten years. I was also responsible for a small-ticket leasing group that provided equipment leasing solutions to attorney firms as well as for the customers of Smith Barney’s Wealth division. Finally, I had oversight for the Bank’s large-ticket equipment finance division, Bankers Leasing.”

In 2005, as the head of CitiCapital, it was Alemany who asked Solk to rebuild Citi’s middle-market asset-based lending group. “We always had the large corporate ABL group in New York, but we had exited the middle-market ABL space in early 2000. The new ABL group was assembled to support middle-market relationships with financing needs up to $100 million in debt.”

When the financial crisis hit, CitiCapital was broken up and parts were sold to GE Capital. After a brief stint at Pennsylvania-based Commerce Bank of Harrisburg, Solk was brought into RBS Citizens as Executive Vice President of Commercial Finance. At Citizens, his responsibilities encompassed four specialty banking businesses: franchise finance, asset-based lending, asset finance (large ticket equipment lessor) and commercial real estate.

Coming from a long-tenured career managing commercial finance businesses within larger regulated banks has provided Solk with a unique perspective as he begins his new career at CIT. Today, Solk oversees several specialty lending and leasing businesses which include CIT’s Direct Capital, Equipment Finance, Lender Finance, Capital Equipment Finance, and Commercial Services. Solk states, "Each of these businesses are aligned with CIT’s core strategy of focusing on strong lending and leasing businesses to create a leading national middle-market bank."

CIT Business Capital:  Broad and Diverse Offerings

Beginning with Direct Capital, which is led by Chris and Jim Broom (founding owners), Solk notes the business provides a unique customer experience with small- and medium-size businesses requiring small-ticket financing solutions. Solk notes CIT gained a tremendous advantage in this market segment with the Direct Capital acquisition, which was completed in August of 2014. "This business has a very strong technology-enabled platform. As a result, this business is able to provide direct and vendor financing solutions with quick turnarounds from initial credit decisions to funding, as well as the ability to generate repeat business through its various embedded technologies. Direct Capital is also one of the largest equipment financing providers in the U.S. to the franchise finance space. Cross sell is critically important at CIT, and through technology innovation, Direct Capital is providing loans and leases to not only customers of Business Capital, but now to small-business customers of OneWest Bank, a network of retail branches CIT recently acquired. In the near future, through a robust digital platform, our goal is to have the ability to provide depository products, and other lending and leasing solutions for small businesses throughout CIT." 

As a market leader, Equipment Finance, which is led by Nick Small, creates tailored technology and equipment financing and leasing programs for manufacturers, distributors, resellers/dealers and systems integrators. According to Solk, the business is a cut above the competition with tailored invoicing presentment capabilities, flexible funding arrangements, equipment and residual expertise, a proven origination process, and strong customer service. “In order to remain competitive and thrive in the vendor financing business, we continue to enhance our technology capabilities to provide vendors and customers with innovative financing and servicing solutions. Technology innovation is a big theme here at CIT. We focus in four key equipment segments and they include office imaging, technology, healthcare, and industrial equipment,” says Solk. He notes CIT Equipment Finance is also expanding its mid-cap restaurant finance business that is a great complement to its existing small-cap expertise within Direct Capital, as well as its large-cap capabilities housed in CIT Commercial Finance.

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